Ceres and WWF Rally Food Companies Against Water Scarcity

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Water scarcity affects around 700 million people, and nearly half of the global population experience such scarcity for at least one month each year. These startling figures will only increase as population growth, pollution and climate change continue to put stress on global water supplies. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

As communities face greater scarcity, the global food sector uses 70 percent of the world’s freshwater supply—meaning food and beverage companies have a significant role to play in protecting water quality and quantity for generations to come.

To that end, Ceres and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) developed a multi-stakeholder initiative to help food and beverage companies advance their sustainable sourcing policies to protect the global water supply. Through the AgWater Challenge, the sustainability nonprofit and international NGO work with food and beverage giants to analyze water issues within their supply chains and create sourcing commitments to better manage water risk.  

Seven companies representing more than $123 billion in annual net revenue were the first to join the challenge back in 2016. These corporate partners agreed to time-bound targets to reduce the water impact of their ingredients, implement on-the-ground strategies in supplier regions experiencing water scarcity, and help supplier farmers increase water stewardship.

Over the past two years, participating companies like Diageo, General Mills and Danone North America have made over 25 commitments related to strengthening water stewardship in their agriculture supply chains. And, as of this week, two more leading companies will join their ranks.

Retail giant Target and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), one of the world’s largest agricultural processors and food ingredient providers, officially joined the AgWater Challenge during the Financial Times Water Summit in London on Wednesday.

By adding a global food processing conglomerate and a major food retailer operating in every U.S. state, the AgWater Challenge significantly increases the acreage farmed with water stewardship in mind, Ceres and WWF said. “With more of the food value chain represented in the AgWater Challenge, participating companies can now better leverage, scale and build meaningful projects in the places that need it most,” Lindsay Bass, manager of corporate water stewardship for WWF, said in a statement.

As the first retailer to join the challenge, Target pledged to promote sustainable water management in California as an active member of the California Water Action Collaborative.  It will also join with other companies to back public policies that advance resilient water solutions through Ceres’ Connect the Drops campaign. And it’s working with Practical Farmers of Iowa and Sustainable Food Lab to develop a market solution for climate and water protection in the Corn Belt.

“These new commitments align with our goals of creating healthy ecosystems and improving sustainable water management,” Jennifer Silberman, vice president of corporate responsibility for Target, said in a statement. In the future, the company will look to go even further by implementing time-bound targets to improve soil health across corn and soy acres and reduce agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River Basin.

ADM, the first agricultural products company to join the challenge, manages a massive supply chain that stretches around the world. Its global value chain includes 500 crop procurement locations and 270 ingredient manufacturing plants—meaning its potential impact is equally immense. As part of its commitment to the challenge, ADM will incentivize participation in Illinois’ Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR), a farmer certification program focused on soil health. It will also work with growers to increase supplier acres using cover crops and alternative tilling practices by 25 percent each by 2022, among other pledges.

“At ADM, sustainable practices and a focus on environmental responsibility aren’t separate from our primary business: They are integral to the work we do every day to serve customers and create value for shareholders,” Alison Taylor, ADM’s chief sustainability officer, said in a statement. “Everything we do starts with growers, and participating in the AgWater Challenge presents us with a great opportunity to influence growing practices and make a tangible difference in water conservation practices for years to come.”

All challenge participants commit to be transparent about the progress toward their targets and communicate the positive impacts they’ve made in freshwater basins, Ceres and WWF said. “As human demand for water grows—particularly for agriculture—the pressures on critical freshwater ecosystems also grow,” said Bass of WWF. “When companies like Target and ADM embrace water stewardship across their agricultural supply chains, they set the stage for others to follow.”

Other participants include beverage giant PepsiCo, packaged food purveyors Kellogg and Hormel, and food and personal care company Hain Celestial Group.

Image credit: Nonki Azariah via Unsplash

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Forests and Supply Chains in Trouble as “Trump of the Tropics” Could Win Brazil’s Presidency

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Brazil’s presidential election on October 28 could prove damaging for the Amazon - and global companies’ commitments to ensure sustainable supply chains - as the far-right presidential candidate’s rhetoric suggests he could reverse years of progress protecting the vulnerable, but extraordinarily important, rainforests.

Deemed the “Trump of the Tropics” by Brazilian journalists, candidate Jair Bolsonaro has pledged his administration would scrap the ministry of environment, open indigenous territories to mining, relax environmental law enforcement and licensing and ban international NGOs from the country. He has also said Brazil would follow in the United States’ footsteps and withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Edson Duarte, Brazil’s environment minister, warned a Brazilian newspaper that Bolsonaro’s presidency would embolden a wave of illegal miners to purge rainforests without fearing consequences.

“The increase of deforestation will be immediate,” Duarte told O Estado de S.Paulo. “I am afraid of a gold rush to see who arrives first. They will know that, if they occupy illegally, the authorities will be complacent and will grant concordance. They will be certain that nobody will bother them.”

Regulations that become far more lax would be devastating for indigenous peoples living in the Amazon. Brazilian indigenous communities would not only be powerless to watch as miners and loggers exploit their land, but they would also risk extinction because of the threat of disease.

Meanwhile, the political polarization in Brazil would also make it even more difficult for companies that source raw materials from Latin America’s largest economy. “In good times, Brazil’s operating environment presents unique supply chain challenges,” concluded a BCG study last year. “As the country continues to grapple with an ailing economy and political turbulence, these challenges are even more daunting.”

Bolsonaro, who served in the army from 1971 to 1988 during Brazil’s military dictatorship, defended the regime’s initiatives to build roads and hydroelectric dams in the rainforest despite displacing and killing thousands of indigenous Brazilians along the way. He has promised “not to give the Indians another inch of land.

That attitude is in sharp contrast to what NGOs such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) advocate. EDF, for example, has advised companies to seek cooperation, not confrontation, when dealing with Brazil’s indigenous populations.

Beyond disregarding the Brazilian constitution by disrupting indigenous peoples’ property, Bolsonaro’s complicity would also have wider-reaching environmental consequences. Only 2 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation occurs inside the roughly 13 percent of indigenous lands. Non-indigenous lands are deforested and exploited substantially more than the indigenous lands currently protected by the government.

Bolsonaro’s election would only accelerate the increasing trends of deforestation in Brazil. From 2005 to 2015, Brazil made strong advances toward limiting deforestation in the Amazon, enacting new policies that enforce environmental regulations, funding environmental government agencies and welcoming international NGOs. The improvements were not long lasting, however, as deforestation has skyrocketed in the last couple of years thanks to law changes and budget cuts to the same environmental and indigenous agencies that slowed down deforestation a decade prior.

In March, Brazil’s Supreme Court accepted revisions to deforestation laws, effectively granting billions in amnesty to those found guilty of illegally deforesting. The Forest Code, as environmentalists call it, “awards the guy who deforested” and “invites deforestation,” Nurit Bensusan, policy coordinator at a Brazilian NGO, Instituto Socioambiental, told the Guardian.

The ministry of environment and the federal science budgets were cut 43 percent and 44 percent, respectively, amid a paralyzing economic recession in Brazil. The budgets may also have been a reflection of agribusiness lobby groups’ growing voice in the Brazilian government.

Of the 513 members in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, 249 received $18.3 million in official donations during the 2014 election from companies and people who have committed environmental crimes.

The meatpacking industry, key players in the Amazon’s degradation, also played a role in the 2014 elections. JBS, the world’s largest meat producer and major influencer in Brazilian politics, donated a record $108.6 million to finance campaigns. Notably, JBS was rocked by the “Cold Meat” scandal in March, when a three-year probe from Brazil’s environmental agency discovered the meat titan bought 59,000 cows ranched in areas illegally deforested.

If elected, Bolsonaro would continue down the path of his predecessor President Michel Temer. The current president has been accused of being cozy to the powerful beef caucus in Brazil’s lower chamber. Temer appointed one of its members to the minister of justice, halted indigenous land demarcations and agreed to reverse license requirements in large agricultural areas so meat giants could strip the Amazon for pasture. Temer currently has an approval rating of as low as 4 percent in some polls.   

The stakes to save the Amazon from further deforestation are extremely high. Studies suggest the Amazon, nearly twice the size of India, absorbs an estimated 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

The United Nations released a harrowing report, coincidentally the same day as Brazil’s October 7 general election, warning of an irreversible 1.5 degrees Celsius increase by 2030-2052 if drastic measures are not taken to prevent further climate change. A crucial way to minimize harm and slow down that timeline is to preserve the Amazon, one of the world’s largest absorbers of carbon.

Bolsonaro nearly captured the presidency outright during the first-round election, winning 46 percent of the vote - five points away from the majority. He holds a commanding lead over left-leaning Fernando Haddad, who gained 29 percent of the vote on October 7.

This year’s presidential election has been far from normal. Bolsonaro spent the last month of his candidacy in the hospital after being stabbed at a campaign rally. Despite being bed-ridden by an infection, he has maintained his strong lead in the polls, and even received a boost after the assassination attempt.

Haddad, on the other hand, is a fresh face on the campaign trail who just announced his candidacy a month prior to the October 7 general election. Leftist candidate Luiz Inacio “Lulu” da Silva, the widely popular politician and former president of Brazil, was campaigning from a jail cell for months while he awaited the verdict of a 10-year corruption charge for accepting bribes from construction companies. The charge was upheld - and extended to 12 years - and effectively ended his campaign. Lulu hand-picked Haddad to run instead. The campaign’s strategy has done its best to link the two, saying a vote for Haddad is a vote for Lulu. At any political rally for the left, you can hear swarms of people chanting “Haddad is Lulu, Lulu is Haddad.

Lulu’s corruption charges merely scratch the surface in Brazil, a country that has been no stranger to politicians accused, convicted and impeached from office due to accusations, and then being found guilty, of corruption. The latest marquee corruption scandal in Brazil began to unravel in 2014, when “Operation Car Wash” found that executives at the state oil company Petrobas had accepted bribes from construction companies in exchange for rewarding large contracts. The investigation has led to the arrests of more than 150 people.  

The country’s corruption record, the alarmingly high crime rates, the slow economy and the failure of its neighboring Venezuela has all created a political landscape for Bolsonaro to thrive - and if elected, his policies could create countless headaches for companies that have pledged to ensure the most responsible and sustainable supply chains possible in the coming years - yet rely on Brazil for raw materials and ingredients such as soy, coffee, beef and even sugarcane-based ethanol.

Impacts on business aside, the impact on Brazilian society cannot be downplayed. Anthony Pereira, the director of Brazil Institute at King’s College London, may have stated it best in Time’s article titled “Jair Bolsonaro Loves Trump, Hates Gay People and Admires Autocrats. He could be Brazil’s Next President.”

“This is probably one of the biggest tests Brazil’s democracy has faced,” wrote Pereira.

Multinationals' promises of supply chain transparency and sustainability will be tested, too.

Image credits: Senado Federal/Flickr; CIAT/Flickr

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What Does It Take to Help Women of Color Build Successful Startups?

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Women of color are America’s fastest growing entrepreneurial population. More than 4.5 million black and Latina women now sit at the helm of their own companies, and women of color have started between 600 and 800 new businesses every day since 2007.

Even as more black and brown women become entrepreneurs, studies show that their companies tend to make less money than women-owned businesses overall—representing a substantial loss that goes beyond a select few founders. For example, if American firms owned by women of color generated the same revenue as those led by white women, they would add 4 million new jobs to the US economy, according to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express.

The Atlanta-based social enterprise DigitalUndivided (DID), which helps women of color build technology businesses, was among the first to assess how black and brown women fare in the high-growth space. Back in 2014, while putting together their lauded BIG Incubator program, the DID team went looking for data on the number of black and brown women who launched high-growth tech startups. Instead, they found a black hole. “There was no data,” founder Kathryn Finney told TriplePundit. “It was almost as if no one thought we were in high-growth.”

Uncovering the data on women founders of color

With scant information on the population she hoped to serve, Finney—who worked as an epidemiologist prior to launching DID—gathered a team to create it. Their findings were shocking: Though black women owned more than 1.5 million businesses, they received a mere 0.2 percent of all venture deals from 2012 to 2014.

“One of the most significant things we found was that people weren't asking the question of race and gender because they didn't want anyone to pay attention to the fact that the numbers were so bad,” Finney told us. “In the process of finishing our report, we realized the data was too stark to keep to ourselves. It told a bigger story about the systemic issues within the startup innovation space.”

DID made its findings public in a 2016 research study called Project Diane, which eventually prompted others to begin gathering data on women entrepreneurs of color. “The first Project Diane had a really big impact on the interest,” Finney told us. “We had no idea it was going to be as influential as it's become.”

Still, outside investment in women founders of color remains low: According to the most recent Project Diane data, released earlier this year, black women–led startups raised $289 million in venture and angel funding since 2009, over $200 million of which was raised last year. That represents an infinitesimal 0.0006 percent of total tech venture funding over that same period.

Those numbers are chilling, to say the least—and they no doubt play a role in the consistently lower revenues generated by women of color-owned firms—but Finney says funding is only the tip of the iceberg. “We know that funding continues to be an issue, but one of my concerns is that people tend to focus on the funding problem and not on the pipeline problem,” she told 3p. “Within a two-year time period, there's been a threefold increase in the number of black women who have raised over $1 million, but there hasn't necessarily been that big an increase in the number of black women-led startups—and that’s what we want.”

More than a “money problem”

While 34 black women founders crossed the $1 million venture threshold last year, the majority of black women–led startups don’t raise any money and remain underrepresented in the high-growth space. DID identified 8,000 women-led, high-growth-potential startups in its most recent analysis, but a mere 4 percent of those companies were led by black women. These numbers represent not only a lack of VC capital moving into black women-led startups, but also a lack of access to resources that form the building blocks of their companies, Finney said.

“This isn't necessarily a money problem,” she explained. “[VCs and funders] also need to open up their networks. They have to do some mentorship and make sure that founders are connected to the right people. All of these things are equally important to money when it comes to building a successful company.”

Since 2013, DID has made resources like these available to more than 2,000 high-potential black and Latina women entrepreneurs through its 26-week BIG Incubator program. Rather than focus on the elusive hunt for outside financing, the BIG model hinges on customer, product and company development—helping founders to understand their target market, create a product that market wants, and build a team that can deliver it.

“Some of the fears I had about talking about my business went away because... I knew I had a business,” Bryanda Law, a former cytogenetic technologist and founder of Quirktastic, a media tech company for “quirky” people of color, said of her experience with the BIG Incubator. “I can look at my unit economics and know what’s working. I can tell you my month-over-month growth rate. I can tell you my customer acquisition costs. That helped me become more confident within my business.”

Rethinking capital

BIG’s evidence-based model won the US Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Competition for two consecutive years, and it now serves as a direct pipeline to the top accelerator programs in the world. Though the incubator helped founders raise $25 million in investment, Finney encourages BIG cohorts to look beyond venture capital to build their businesses.

“I would love it if our companies would never have to take investment, because when you take investment, you're adding a boss,” she explained. “We teach our founders that raising a lot of money doesn't mean you're necessarily building a successful company, because that's just the money raised. Measure success by revenue and—more importantly—by profit.”

Growth fueled solely by revenue is the holy grail, Finney told us. But vehicles like debt financing through Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) may also prove more lucrative than VCs deals—which tend to be unfavorable toward women of color and command high equity stakes for low investments. “Rethinking capital is a conversation that most of us in this space are starting to have amongst each other: How do we think about capital differently? Are there other instruments that can be developed that would be more appropriate for our community?”

The bottom line

By almost every measure, these numbers simply don’t add up. Black and brown women are starting more businesses than any other demographic, yet the necessary resources don’t reach them and investors still aren’t paying attention. Powered only by bootstrap funding that averages less than $50,000, according to Project Diane data, women of color often don’t earn enough to build their companies, launch new products or hire more workers.

The fact that women entrepreneurs of color still struggle to earn revenues on par with their white counterparts is reflective of systemic issues that permeate every aspect of American life, Finney said. “Money, who gets it, and who can use it is a subject that is really fraught here in the United States, so the problem is not just about investment,” she argued. “It's literally about who we think deserves to innovate and create a company.”

Even as the definition of a startup founder expands slightly beyond the white guy in a hoodie—to, maybe, a white woman in a power suit—we’ll continue to lose out until decision-makers accept that anyone, of any background, has the potential to develop a profitable idea. That isn’t just conjecture—once again, it’s all about the data, and the numbers don’t lie: If their revenue reached parity with firms led by white women, women of color-owned companies would add $1.2 trillion to the US economy, according to the AMEX report.

“Until we have discussions around our beliefs about money and who should have it, it's going to continue to be an uphill battle for women of color founders,” Finney said. “We have to push past the funding part of it and think about what it takes to build a successful company and the resources that founders need to do so—then we have to get those resources to women of color and to anyone who wants to build a company.”

Image courtesy of DigitalUndivided/Facebook

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This Foundation Is Helping Grieving Students by Supporting Teacher Training and Grants

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When tragedies like shootings, suicides or car accidents affect a school community, news reports often state, “Grief counselors will be on hand to help students."  What happens in the following weeks and months, though, after cameras and reporters leave? Or what about an equally upsetting loss that didn’t get covered in the media – the death of a child’s relative due to illness, for example?

This week, the New York Life Foundation launched the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative (GSSI), a national program to help schools better support students in the aftermath of a loss.

“Although student tragedies and acts of violence strike our communities all too often, creating urgent concern around issues of death and grief at school, grief is an issue that educators encounter in the classroom every single day,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation.

The reality of grief in the classroom

More than 1 in 15 children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 18, totaling more than 4 million children nationwide. Add children who have lost a loved one outside of the immediate family, and the number of grieving students at any given time is staggering.

Grief can have both short- and long-term consequences for students, including behavioral issues, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal, absenteeism and a decrease in academic performance:

But while 92 percent of educators say childhood grief is a “serious problem deserving more attention from schools," only 7 percent of teachers say they have had any type of bereavement training.

School is a critical place for children and teens to receive support and care, especially during a particularly vulnerable period in their lives. Teachers and school staff are often some of the most trusted and respected adults in students’ lives, so proper grief awareness training can make a significant difference.

How the Grief-Sensitive School Initiative works

The New York Life Foundation’s GSSI will provide assistance through two programs.

Hundreds of trained New York Life employees have visited or will visit schools in their own communities to share best practices, free online resources, and other grief support tools with teachers and staff.

Once a school completes this training, schools can take the pledge to become a Grief-Sensitive School, making them eligible to receive a grant from the New York Life Foundation to further their grief awareness efforts. Elementary, middle and high schools are all eligible for these grants.

More than 400 schools throughout 30 states have already received “Grief-Sensitive Schools” designation and grants, since New York Life Foundation piloted the program in 2016. The Foundation expects to reach more than 1,000 schools by the end of the 2018-19 school year through this initiative, distributing more than half a million dollars in grants.

The next phase of the GSSI – set to occur over the next three years – will expand the training to the regional and national levels through a partnership with the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, directed by Dr. David Schonfeld.

“Our hope is to lay the groundwork for a significant shift in the level and quality of support grieving students receive at school,” said Dr. Schonfeld.

The issue of childhood grief: Aligning business objectives and social outreach

Through the Foundation’s focus on childhood bereavement, the New York Life organization has taken an often-overlooked issue directly related to the life insurance business and focused on the social aspects of families experiencing or preparing for major loss.

“New York Life’s commitment to grieving children and their families is woven into the fabric of our company, reinforcing our mission to provide financial security and peace of mind,” said Nesle in an interview with TriplePundit. “The strong alignment of the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative with New York Life’s core values and day-to-day business has created particularly robust engagement around the program – a true ‘win-win’ for our workforce and their local school communities.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Infographic credit: New York Life Foundation

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Nobel Prize Turns Spotlight on Climate Change as IPCC Warns Time is Running Out

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The timing underscored the urgency—and the opportunity. The same day that Americans William D. Nordhaus and Paul Romer were awarded the 2018 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday for bringing long-term thinking on climate issues and technological innovation into the field of economics, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a dire warning that time is running out to address climate change.

Nordhaus, Professor of Economics at Yale University, was acknowledged by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis, while Romer, Professor of Economics at New York University, was singled out for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis. Both are pioneers in adapting the western economic growth model to focus on environmental issues and sharing the benefits of technology.

The urgency of their work couldn’t be more timely. The landmark IPCC report warns that immediate consequences of climate change are worse than previously thought, with worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040. Avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent,” says the UN’s scientific panel.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” Bill Hare, an author of previous IPCC reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization told the New York Times. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.”

Still time to act

Yet both the Nobel Prize winners and the IPCC report offer room for optimism—if the world is prepared to grasp the opportunity. Preventing an extra single degree of heat over the next few decades could make a life-or-death difference for millions of people and ecosystems on Earth, the IPCC report stated. A number of climate change impacts could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

According to the IPCC, the world has about a decade to cut carbon emissions in half before the lower goal slips away. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050

Reason for optimism

The Nobel Prize winners believe that solutions are at hand, if the world gets serious about seizing them.

Nordhaus told Reuters that he was being honored for his work on carbon tax as a mechanism to reduce global warming. “It was for work on one of the most important problems the globe faces, which is climate change,” he said. “I’ve been working on that for almost 40 years, and the time’s ripe.”

"It's entirely possible for humans to reduce carbon emissions," Romer said at the press conference announcing the Nobel Prize. "There will be some trade-offs, but once we try we will find that it wasn't as hard as we thought it would be."  

Growth at any cost?

It is this idea of trade-offs, however ,that has some economists objecting to the Academy’s choice. Both laureates’ work emphasize growth as the ultimate measure of an economy's success--an approach some economists argue has contributed to the climate crisis.

"I would say [this prize] is the last hurrah of a certain old guard of the economics profession that want to preserve the idea of growth at all costs," Julia Steinberger, an ecological economist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, told Science Magazine.

Ecological economists argue that models focusing on economic growth as the measure of a policy's success leads to trade-offs to increase growth in the short term, on the assumption that it will make it easier to deal with the increased environmental damage in the long term.

The debate is valid, but the greatest risk is to do nothing and stay on the path of business-as-usual.

If, as the IPCC warns, limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities, there is no time to waste.

This week’s Nobel Prize laureates and the IPCC report make that adamantly clear.

Image credit: Docent Joyce

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The Good Life Goals - A Company’s Vision to Simplify the SDGs

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With overwhelming goals like end poverty for all, achieve gender equality worldwide, feed an increasingly growing population and change the earth’s course on climate change, it’s easy to feel discouraged, and even a bit unimportant, as the world aims to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

It is difficult to view the SDGs as a collaborative effort when we zoom out and see that governments, private companies, nonprofits and intergovernmental organizations wield the most influence, power and fattest checkbooks.

But behind its newly launched “The Good Life Goals” initiative, Futerra, a global change agency, wants to zoom in and prove to individuals that their actions matter - that the SDGs will not be accomplished by solely the work of those with resources and power.

“The Global Goals have driven new action by policy-makers and corporations across the world, but what about the other billions of us?” Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, said in a press release. “Sustainability isn’t just for institutions, it must also inspire individuals.”

The campaign breaks down each of the 17 SDGs and provides concrete and simple steps for how people can do their part toward accomplishing the bigger, overarching goals. A video also explains personal actions that people around the world can take to help support the SDGs.

Let’s look at SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) for example. While one of the SDGs targets inspires us to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking…” it seems more attainable at a personal level to “check no one was exploited to make what you buy,” as The Good Life Goals recommends.

Similarly with SDG3 (Good Health and Well-Being), targets like “achieve universal health coverage” or “end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria” seem like they are better left to lawmakers, doctors or NGOs. But when it’s simplified to “value mental health and well-being” or “demand medical care and vaccinations for all” then it becomes clearer that individuals can truly play a role in creating a healthier future.

For each of the SDGs, Futerra provides five Good Life Goals to create a personal guide on how to chip away at the bigger vision. Most of the 17 animations preach the importance of learning and educating ourselves about the issues at hand, and advocating for the goal. Futerra understands that individuals may not be able to contribute to causes financially but they can contribute their voice and support.

The SDGs are the encore to the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals, which from 2000 to 2015 ushered in worldwide improvements in reducing extreme poverty, unlocking educational opportunities for youth, promoting gender equality, and improving children and maternal health, despite missing most of its ambitious targets. The SDGs are a compilation of 17 goals to be met through 169 targets with the collaboration of 193 countries.

Starting in 2015 and ending in 2030, the SDGs aim to “free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.”

The Good Life Goals were created to bridge the gap between the SDGs and the sustainable lifestyles movement.

“Changing the world has never just been about policies or products, it always comes down to people,” Townsend said.

Image credits: Futerra

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IPCC Report Reveals Urgent Need for CEOs to Act on Climate

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a sobering report this week detailing the dramatic effects of climate change and the immediate steps we need to take to make significant progress on limiting warming in the future. The report makes it clear that apathy and inaction are no longer viable options. Unprecedented action is needed by both the public and private sector to transform our energy, transportation and other systems around the world.

Could this report finally be the clarion call to our nation’s business leaders to take responsibility for ensuring a prosperous and clean energy future for all?

There has been encouraging progress to date, but much more needs to be done. Businesses have an essential role to play in building political will for action, which may be the biggest challenge of all. Moreover, new research shows corporate stakeholders want – and expect – climate leadership, including policy advocacy.

Consumers want brands to take stands

Today, consumers expect to hear what CEOs and companies think about issues that affect all of society. In fact, 86 percent of consumers believe companies should take a stand for social issues and environmental causes, according to new research from the Shelton Group.

This year’s annual Edelman Trust Barometer found that 84 percent expect CEOs to inform conversations and policy debates on one or more issues, while 64 percent thought that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. In the report’s executive summary, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan summed up the role of a modern-day CEO by saying, “Our job as CEOs now includes driving what we think is right.”

Corporate CEOs have the clout and credibility to lead the charge for climate action while our federal government lags behind – America is hungry for passionate business leaders who want to drive innovation while safeguarding our planet.

A recent national study by the Pew Research Center found a majority of Americans feel the federal government is doing little to protect our water (69 percent) and air quality (64 percent). And more than three out of five Americans (67 percent) believe the government is not doing enough to reduce the effects of climate change.

"In a world where they no longer expect the government to fix things, people are turning to corporate America to step in and do some good," said Peter Horst, founder of marketing consultancy CMO. "Consumers increasingly want to engage with companies whose values match theirs."

Further, investors and stakeholders are increasingly scrutinizing companies’ engagement in public policy, and demanding consistency with their sustainability goals.

Corporate engagement on climate is on the rise

Thankfully, companies are beginning to stand up for the environment and climate policy, too. Recently, 21 business leaders at the Global Climate Action Summit announced the Step Up Declaration, an alliance to harness the power of new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The declaration, developed by Salesforce and Mission 2020 with signatories including Bloomberg, Cisco and Uber, highlights a commitment to accelerate climate action not just within corporate boundaries but also with governments.

The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance is another promising step forward by four influential companies – Danone North America; Mars, Incorporated; Nestlé USA; and Unilever United States – that aims to leverage collaboration to inspire policy action that improves transparency for consumers, supports farm communities, and tackles climate change.

And when representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) introduced the MARKET CHOICE Act (H.R. 6463), a bill that would repeal fuel taxes and replace them with a carbon tax, 34 leading companies — including Campbell Soup Company, BP America, Shell, Dow Chemical Co., DuPont, National Grid, and General Motors — signed onto a letter thanking Rep. Curbelo for his leadership.

A step-change in business leadership is needed

True leadership requires courage and carries risk. However, staying quiet on an existential threat like climate change is far riskier. As the IPCC report makes clear, it is no longer enough for companies to tend their own sustainability gardens.

Businesses must work together to improve sustainability across their supply chains and to support public policies that ensure a thriving economy and a healthy planet. Climate change is the defining global challenge of our time. We know what we need to do to meet the challenge; all that’s missing is political will.

CEOs can and must change that, by making climate action a top priority in their policy advocacy in state capitals and in Washington, DC. Who will be first to truly lead on climate?

Previously published on EDF+Biz and 3BL Media News.

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Why Being a Social 'Edupreneur' is the Way to Go in Business Education Today

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Business education has come under fire from different angles in recent years, leading some to even question whether B-Schools should not completely be overhauled. The criticism comprises a wide scale of arguments. There is condemnation about the sheer structure of many B-Schools’ operations, with deans placing excessive focus on acquiring major funds for the school at any expense, faculty being more concerned about maintaining their scholarly status than to properly facilitate their courses, and students treating their bachelor's degree or MBA as a negotiation tool, expecting top-grades for their tuition dollars. There is also major criticism about the training of business students into future executives who solely focus on the bottom-line (“homo economicus”), even if it requires immoral strategies. American B-Schools, in particular, are often accused of defending, teaching, and practicing hard core capitalism without any social emphasis, a trend that has proven destructive to the collective emotional wellbeing of society.

The call for “meaning” has emerged and surged, but has yet to find massive adoption in the ways B-Schools are run and how they structure their curricula. Fortunately, there are movements that have spawned rays of hopes. Workplace spirituality, leadership styles that emphasize broad stakeholder inclusion, emotional intelligence, business ethics, diversity management, and an energetic focus on social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility, are some of the avenues that several business faculty members have cultivated in recent years.

Yet, teaching these constructive topics is one thing. Making them appealing and compelling is another. Today’s student, business or non-business, needs more than a mere textbook and a series of bank-deposit resembling lectures to remain enticed. Today’s business students, with all distractions that surround and consume them, need an active and fertile environment to absorb the topics that will drive their behavior in the future of professional performance.  

This is where the Edupreneur enters the business classroom. Edupreneurs are simply educators with an entrepreneurial mindset and approach. They can be found in all sectors of education, but are desperately needed in business schools. Why? Because they teach by example. Edupreneurs are not static educators, but remain on the move, and engage in a range of constructive outreach activities that enrich their insights and positively affect the quality they bring to the classroom. They may engage in external presentations to professional audiences, which enables them to extend their influence outside the classroom and establish useful connections. They may create or participate in constructive physical or virtual projects, inspired by a perceived need. They may write books and articles that reach practitioner audiences, or try to involve broader platforms in the teaching practice. The range of activities in which edupreneurs can engage is vast and fascinating. And, as we are now witnessing growing recognition and appreciation of social entrepreneurs – those who start ventures with a primary aim of solving social problems or instigating social change – so should we encourage the cultivation of social edupreneurs: educators who aim at positively altering the social landscape, and confront their students with the urgency to bring about responsible change in society.   

In order to achieve the greatest impact, it is important to include action-based experiences, whereby students identify projects to which they can constructively contribute, because only when they have experienced the euphoria of actually alleviating a need in society, regardless how small, will they be encouraged to do it more often.

We must convince business professors about the importance of becoming social edupreneurs, and help them understand that this approach will not infringe, but rather strengthen their scholarship, while also enlarging their impact on society and their students. In doing so, we will have taken a major step toward constructively reinventing business education, while at the same time, initiating the much-needed change in the outdated narrative about the role of business in society.  

Image credit: Woodbury University/Facebook

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Responsible Investing Survey Reveals Major Shift in ESG Thinking

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Investors in the U.S. in general have been slower than their counterparts in Europe in taking environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into account, but that resistance seems to be falling away.

According to the just-released third annual Responsible Investing Survey by RBC Global Asset Management, the percentage of U.S. institutional investors who reject ESG outright shrank to 34 percent from 51 percent in 2017. Further, 24 percent of U.S. investors now say that an ESG integrated portfolio will outperform a non-ESG portfolio, five times the number who agreed in 2017.  

This echoes a global trend. For the first time, and by nearly every measure, institutional investors and consultants have shifted decisively from asking whether to adopt ESG principles, to looking at how to implement them.

ESG becomes mainstream

Globally, 90 percent of institutional investors believe ESG integrated portfolios are likely to perform as well or better than non-ESG integrated portfolios, and 72 percent are using ESG to make investment decisions. More than half say they consider ESG integration to be part of their fiduciary duty – double the percentage who said so last year.

The remaining barriers to more widespread adoption of ESG are now logistical, versus philosophical,  the survey found. Converting the remaining skeptics is more a question of adequate resources and access to quality information than philosophical opposition to the idea.

RBC GAM, which includes BlueBay Asset Management and manages more than USD$330 billion in assets, surveyed 542 institutional asset owners and investment consultants in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.

Respondents underscored the importance of gender diversity on corporate boards, with 42 percent of institutional investors supporting shareholder proposals as an effective means to achieve that goal. As TriplePundit noted in a recent article, more women are serving on boards but parity is a long way off. The push from investors may help the trend gain more momentum.

From exclusion to engagement

The survey shows that negative screens (often excluding “sin” stocks such as alcohol, tobacco and firearms companies) are evolving into an increased focus on engaging with companies as a way to influence corporate behavior.

When asked in the context of the Fossil Fuel Free movement whether it was more effective to divest or engage, for example, 45 percent of the 2018 survey respondents said engagement is more effective (compared to 8 percent of respondents who prefer divestment).

Grasping the intangible

This growing embrace of ESG principles is not a matter of altruism. Investors are waking up to the fact that ESG risks can impact the worth of intangible assets, which make up more than 80 percent of company value, as the Society for Corporate Governance reported in June.

These intangible assets include brand names, reputation, top managers, technological know-how and a loyal, well-trained and engaged workforce.

Investors lead the way

Regulation has been a driver in pushing European investors to adopt an ESG framework. In May, the European Commission unveiled its Action Plan on Sustainable Finance, a proposal which will introduce a regulatory framework supporting sustainable investment. 

In the absence of any such moves by U.S. regulators, it is investors who have been taking the lead in making ESG integration mainstream.

Institutional investors, boards of trustees, consultants and other members of the investment ecosystem increasingly appear to understand the value of ESG integration and are demanding that it be incorporated into the investment process.

Image credit: LIBER Europe/Flickr

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Report: Food and Beverage Giants Not Doing Enough to Fight Forced Labor

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International food and beverage giants are advancing their commitment to ending forced labor in their supply chains, but a new report from KnowTheChain states that all of the 38 companies analyzed (listed at the end of this story) still have a lot of room for improvement.

The report, KnowTheChain’s second food and beverage benchmark since it was launched in 2016, set out to answer one question: are the largest food and beverage companies in the world doing enough to eradicate forced labor from their supply chains?

While there have been substantial improvements made toward addressing forced labor since its last study, the answer is largely no, the companies are not doing enough. Companies are slow to improve issues with recruitment and engagement with workers across their supply chains; and they are limiting their impact by placing special focus in commodities where labor abuses receive the most media attention (as in palm oil), rather than casting a wider, all-encompassing net.

The report ranks firms on a scale from 0 to 100 and judges companies’ policies and processes against seven themes:

  1. Commitment and Governance – a company’s commitment to address forced labor

  2. Traceability and Risk Assessment – the extent to which a company demonstrates an understanding of its suppliers and workforce

  3. Purchasing Practices – the extent to which a company adopts responsible purchasing practices and integrates supply chain standards

  4. Recruitment – a company’s approach to reducing the risk of exploitation of supply chain workers by recruitment agencies

  5. Worker Voice – the extent to which a company engages with workers in its supply chain

  6. Monitoring – a company’s process for auditing suppliers

  7. Remedy – a company’s corrective action plan and a company’s ability to ensure remedy
Unilever (69/100), Kellogg Co. (66/100), The Coca-Cola Company (62/100), Tesco (60/100) and Nestle (58/100) were the top five scorers. Unilever was the top-scoring company in the 2016 study as well, displaying an industry-leading initiative to address the exploitation of migrant workers. Kellogg’s dramatically increased its score since the benchmark in 2016, more than doubling its score from 32/100 to 66/100 in just two short years. Kellogg’s now provides training to its suppliers on ethical recruitment and migrant workers’ rights.

The report considers a company average if it scores a 30 out of 100. An average company typically discloses a supplier code of conduct incorporating international standards prohibiting forced labor, a process for enforcing that code through many levels of its supply chain, employee training on forced labor, a grievance mechanism for its workers and an audit process to assess suppliers.

To improve its score, the report recommends that average-scoring companies provide training to suppliers on forced labor risks, create stronger recruitment monitoring mechanisms, support and empower workers to understand their rights and appropriately market and encourage the use of grievance mechanisms for workers.

While the average company score has improved slightly from 30 in 2016 to 33 in 2018, companies continue to score lowest in worker voice and recruitment, the two themes with the largest direct impact on workers’ lives.

Just 18 of the 38 companies analyzed have policies in place to prohibit worker-paid recruitment fees in their supply chain. None of the companies could provide evidence that workers were reimbursed for fees paid to a recruiter. On top of poor recruitment improvements, the study found that companies are demonstrating very little effort to engage with workers in their supply chain.

The study on workers rights is tackling an important and timely issue. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 24.9 million forced laborers in the world. The ILO identifies 11 indicators of forced labor:

  • Abuse of vulnerability

  • Deception

  • Restriction of movement

  • Isolation

  • Physical and sexual violence

  • Intimidation and threats

  • Retention of identity documents

  • Withholding of wages

  • Debt bondage

  • Abusive working and living conditions

  • Excessive overtime
Forced labor is particularly prevalent to those working in the agriculture sector. Agriculture work is largely seasonal or temporary, leaving workers with unstable sources of income. Further, much of the pay generated from agriculture work is based on outputs, and outputs can be largely unpredictable due to external factors like weather or theft. Workers may also be reluctant to voice wage complaints because they fear voicing their opinion could get them fired.

“Forced labor remains a major problem in the production of popular food and beverage products.” Kilian Moore, projector director for KnowTheChain, wrote in a press release. “It’s encouraging to see increased companies working to address forced labor… but progress for workers is not moving fast enough.”

Image credit: USDA

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