Companies Must Address the Role Gender Plays In Burnout

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“I was getting panic attacks every week, in the emergency room for intense stomach pain, and I had disconnected from the very people who used to give me energy both at work and outside of work,” Paula Davis-Laack, founder and CEO of the Stress and Resilience Institute, wrote about her experience with burnout.

Burnout—a long-term state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion brought on by repeated stress, according to Psychology Today—is now considered a medical syndrome by the World Health Organization as of June 2019. 

In a 2019 Accountemps study, 96 percent of the 2,800 senior managers surveyed reported their team members experience burnout. 

Burnout is not only devastating for an individual but also for companies’ morale and expenses. Those experience burnout are more likely to take a sick day or twice as likely to leave their current employer, according to Gallup research. The resulting decreased productivity and higher training costs are estimated to cost U.S. businesses $150 billion to $300 billion each year.

The upside is that more companies are addressing burnout through creating mental health days outside of paid time off. Another option is giving employees the option of working from home; for example, Impact Group, a leadership and relocation coaching consultancy, does so to encourage employees to reset. But companies truly committed to toeing the triple bottom line should consider offering more support and flexibility to its employees, especially women.

How does gender affect the experience of burnout?

While some studies, such as the 2019 Accountemps survey, do not indicate a significant difference between the burnout reported by men versus women, two recent studies indicate that men and women do experience burnout differently. A recent University of Montreal study concluded that women experience burnout more frequently than men. In addition, a University of Graz study found that while men and women experiencing burnout had the same level of depression, women showed higher levels of emotional and physical exhaustion that affected performance. 

According to the University of Montreal study, reasons lie in women’s lack of autonomy due to their lower-level positions as well as obligations outside of work. 

“Although evidence of a gendered effect of decision latitude on burnout is limited and equivocal, our results nevertheless support the view that larger, societal differentiation processes associated with women’s limited access to greater control opportunities in the work and non-work domains may be at play,” wrote Nancy Beauregard, study author and associate professor of industrial studies at the University of Montreal, in an email to TriplePundit.

How women can mitigate the risks of burnout while still taking on meaningful career opportunities

Even though burnout’s negative impact on women’s productivity results from larger systematic forces—think the glass ceiling and women’s domestic duties, which often include taking care of elderly family members—women can mitigate the risks of burnout. And it’s in their employers’ best interest to ensure they feel fulfilled and motivated at work, as the alternative is a disengaged workforce and higher rate of employee turnover.

“There’s nothing fancy about what it would take to turn things around,” Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, author of “Mommy Burnout," to told the Washington Post. “But it’s a huge shift in the cultural mindset. That’s the challenge.”

The acts to bring about that paradigm shift don’t need to be overarching policy changes but rather small yet impactful ones that remind women and those around them to recognize the signs of burnout in the workplace. Communication is key. Checking in about project deadlines and responsibilities outside of work with managers are great steps for women to stay above the stress. 

“Women should voice their distinctive reality in terms of work-family balance, and how it impacts their productivity and wellbeing at all these levels—at home, at work and in government,” Beauregard told 3p.

How companies can prevent burnout among women employees

In addition, industry and company culture also play a role in creating an ecosystem to avoid burnout among women. When there is a poor social support structure in an industry—take journalism and medicine, for example—studies report there is more burnout among women in that industry.

But mentorship, childcare and paid parental leave are all steps companies can take to prevent burnout among women.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Medicine is redefining the poor social support structure in medicine for women within their workforce, according to Sara Berg of the American Medical Association. It addresses burnout among all physicians, with a focus on women and underrepresented minorities, through their leadership development programming by addressing time constraints, technology, and regulations to allow for more autonomy in the doctors’ roles.

Similarly, Patagonia has created a strong social support structure through its on-site childcare center, which has been there for over 30 years, leading to almost no turnover among women employees who have children, Quartz reported.

“In nearly two decades of working with organizations, we have found very few CEOs and senior leaders who move beyond providing wellness options and benefits to truly driving cultures that value regular renewal as a critical component of performance,” wrote Tony Schwartz, the director of the Energy Project, a global consultancy all about organizational transformation, at Forbes.  “Now is the time. In a world of relentless disruption, transforming the way people work may be the biggest competitive advantage of all.”

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Companies committed to the triple bottom line should consider more support and flexibility so employees can avoid burnout—especially women, who experience burnout more frequently, research shows.
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Should Helicopter Personal Finance Be a Thing?

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As soon as we can speak, we insist we can do it ourselves. Try telling a two-year old she can’t tie her shoes or that she’s putting the dress on upside down. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to grow out of this tendency to resist help – and that includes when it comes to personal finance. 

People almost universally agree that seat belts save lives, distracted driving is a bad thing, and that flossing is important. And yet, despite awareness of the right choice and our own best intentions, a text message chime while driving is nearly irresistible while flossing our teeth is not. Carrying through on our plans requires more than motivation. Behold the action-intention gap. 

For help, we often rely on others, such as government, businesses, or landlords to save us from ourselves. Legislating seat belts, turning on a text message auto-reply when driving, requiring renter’s insurance—all guardrails for decisions made in the service of our own self-control and wellbeing.

What does this have to do with personal finance? With one in five Americans not saving any money for the future and 39 percent of all Americans reporting they do not have $400 cash on hand to cover an emergency, financial institutions can do more to help us help ourselves. Whether you call it paternalism in financing, nanny bankers or helicopter banking, looking beyond the label shows that it can work to our advantage just as it has in other industries. 

The proof is in the 401(k)

Consider the undeniable success of the finance industry’s most protective action yet: default enrollment in retirement plans. The shift to automatic enrollment in U.S. employer sponsored retirement programs has been enormously impactful on household savings.

A recent report estimated that about 50 percent of American companies default new employees into retirement savings, and the result is that anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of defaulted employees remain enrolled. Given the successful implementation of automatic enrollment in retirement savings, why hasn’t this approach been adopted more widely by financial institutions across budgeting, spending and other products and programs?

Paternalism in personal finance defined

Perhaps one reason is the concept of paternalism. It’s a loaded term! As a woman first and a consumer second, the idea of external restrictions can grate . . . but maybe that’s the point. My savings account doesn’t grow when I have the freedom to forget it. We have to push back against knee jerk reactions and natural tendencies to secure long-term gain. 

As behavioral scientists, we define paternalism in finance as an academic term that means a deliberate decision by a bank or credit union, government agency, or an employer to design procedures and products in a way that set consumers up for both short- and long-term financial wellbeing.

This can be as basic as nudging people toward savings or away from excessive spending, helping people find new ways to earn money, or distributing income in a way that smooths cash flow.  This is because financial literacy programs do not work on their own, accounting for only 0.1 percent of the variance in financial outcomes; that is, just 1 out of 1,000 students in a financial education program acts on their knowledge to improve their outcomes.

Behaviorally informed nudges can have much larger effects. In 2017, our work at the Common Cents Lab in partnership with 27 financial organizations resulted in an additional $10.5 million saved. Imagine that same type of impact delivered at scale.

Eliminating temptation, introducing safeguards

People do want to make the right financial decision. Most will say they want to save more money but stopping for takeout or getting a Lyft or taxi instead of waiting for the bus can be a more tangible and convenient reward, especially at the end of a day full of frustration and setbacks. 

Our readily available account balances and access to cash can make it too easy to choose now over the future. At the same time, locking savings up in a CD or bond is too restrictive.

To help people strike this delicate balance, the Community Empowerment Fund in Durham, NC, offers a SafeSavings account that makes it easy for members to deposit money but requires a 24-hour waiting period to access funds after requesting a withdrawal. An emergency withdrawal loophole exists but requires an extra phone call.

When we asked about whom members were guarding against, one respondent replied: “From me!” Members rely on the account’s restrictions to help them rethink purchases they might want to delay while trusting that they can access the funds when they decide it’s time.

As a self-control strategy, these users have realized that the best way to resist temptation is not to grit one’s teeth and power through, but instead to prevent the opportunity for temptation in the first place.

DIY protectionism

This program punctures the myth held by many financial providers that their customers will balk at overly managed products because they restrict autonomy. In fact, it shows that people will embrace products that help limit their exposure and encourage better financial decisions by default.

In our work with banks and credit unions, we regularly witness customers using existing products in ways that limit their autonomy, like those who use the lost card feature in an app to toggle their credit cards on and off to avoid spending. We’ve also seen people design their own version of round-up and savings sweep products, as with the member who keeps his checking account at a round number by transferring all odd values into savings. Every. Single. Day. And we’ve seen people bring more tangibility to their budgets by using prepaid cards for their different spending categories.

The lesson is that people are already working hard on their own to create interventions and processes that help them save using the tools at hand. For providers, the clear message should be that better tools would be welcomed.

Image credit: Austin Distel/Unsplash

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This Big Box Retailer Leads on ‘Woke Capitalism’

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Several years ago, I wrote why Costco stands out as a corporate social responsibility leader. The article went bananas with our readers, the way the big-box retailer’s customers go bananas for everything from its well-priced bananas (and avocados, and blueberries, and mangos) to brand-name clothing and supplements. What I wrote in 2012 still rings true, as the company is still seen by observers as a living example of “woke capitalism.”

Only a few days after 181 CEOs affiliated with the Business Roundtable signed a letter agreeing that from now on executives need to think about how their companies can benefit all stakeholders, Costco has been singled out by Barron’s.

“Its CEO wasn’t a Roundtable signatory, which is ironic since Costco has been criticized by Wall Street for paying workers too much and not doing enough to maximize earnings,” wrote Barron's senior editor, Steven M. Sears. “The old complaints have subsided a bit as Costco’s stock gained some 35 percent this year, outperforming the S&P 500 index’s 17 percent [increase].”

Costco proves that conducting business like a decent corporate citizen can pay off at many levels. The company has long had a reputation as paying its workers far more than its competitors in the retail sector, with solid health care benefits as well. Its supply chain isn’t perfect, but it passes the inclusion test with its program that gives local businesses opportunities to sell their products within the chain’s warehouse stores. And customers benefit as Costco has long had a policy of passing on wholesale cost savings along to its card-carrying members (as in those Calvin Klein jeans) – a practice that has long frustrated Wall Street.

Check off all those stakeholder group boxes, and you’ve got a company that is a textbook study of woke capitalism.

“In the end, the company treats its employees and shareholders more than decently. And sales continue to trend upwards,” I wrote in 2012. “If you believe all workers should have the chance to earn a decent wage and be rewarded for hard work, shopping at Costco is an easy choice to make.”

Based on the buzz that still surrounds Costco today, those words continue to ring true seven years later.

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At Uniqlo, Lasers and New Technology Remove Water Stress from Distressed Denim

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It may not be as well-known as H&M or Zara, but fast fashion retailer Uniqlo has its share of fans within the 12 U.S. states where it has locations. And as is the case with other apparel companies, the pressure is on at Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, to ensure its clothes are manufactured with less impact on people and the planet.

To that end, Uniqlo is deploying several tactics to drastically reduce the amount of water required to make its denim jeans. Uniqlo and its competitors over the years (or, should we say, thanks to labor and environmental groups) have found that creating those “vintage” denim looks rather quickly consumes vast amount of water, chemicals and labor.

According to a profile on Nikkei Asian Review, one process Uniqlo is taking on is replacing the traditional method of stonewashing, which usually involves washing the jeans with pumice in a massive drum. Instead, engineers have devised a “nano-bubble” technology, paired with fabricated “eco-stones” that factory employees can use repeatedly. As anyone who has pumice stones in their housecleaning kit knows, those stones disintegrate fairly quickly. Uniqlo’s process slashes the amount of water and materials waste needed to gin up those latest looks in denim.

Even more interesting is Uniqlo’s use of laser technology to create those distressed looks. As the fashion writer Bianca O’Neill recently observed:

“Graphic designs modeled off real vintage denim are input into these laser machines, with the lasers then ‘destroying’ each pair of jeans within minutes. This process is fascinating to watch; a laser works its way down each leg removing thin layers of denim, then uses super-quick controlled burning to open up vintage-looking rips and tears.”

The results? Less health risks for workers and far less water wasted during the process. Uniqlo claims these shifts in denim manufacturing can reduce the amount of water needed anywhere from 90 to 99 percent. The company will scale up this means of production for all of its jeans some time during 2020.

Uniqlo’s pledge to slash water consumption is on the heels of other environmental and social programs the company has recently launched. By the end of 2020, Uniqlo says it will reduce the amount of plastic used throughout its supply chain by approximately 85 percent. And within its supply chain, the company has promised to expand training and economic opportunities for women as part of its commitment to aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Business Roundtable Aims High, But Misses

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By Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR

In a very welcome—and long overdue—step, the Business Roundtable, America’s foremost CEO network, has recognized that a singular focus on shareholder value is the wrong “north star” for business leaders. While the Roundtable has usefully removed shareholder primacy from its statement of purpose, what replaces it falls short of what society and business truly need to thrive in the 21st century.

About shareholder primacy, the less said, the better. The concept has been distorted beyond all reality and has been often used to justify actions that hurt people, communities, and the environment and to enable lobbying that prioritizes short-term benefits over lasting investments needed for businesses to succeed and for a competitive economy.

As a result, while the pivot to the new statement of purpose is very welcome, it also falls far short of what the best businesses aspire to and are capable of doing.

Crafting this statement no doubt required a lot of horse-trading and the inherent caution that trade associations too often adopt. This approach is no longer fit for purpose. Our times demand vision, ambition, innovation, and risk-taking, and the new statement is sorely lacking on all fronts.

At a time when the very essence and value of capitalism are facing serious blowback, the role of the corporation, and corporate leaders, in America gets no attention.

To start, some key issues are missing. First and foremost, it is incomprehensible that the statement has no mention of climate change. It is increasingly clear that accelerating climate change presents a stark and growing challenge to economic and social stability. No responsible CEO or Board of Directors can steer his or her company without a climate strategy, yet it is invisible here. In addition, at a time when daily work lives and employment are changing rapidly and creating increased anxiety, there is reference only to helping workers “develop new skills for a rapidly changing world.” This is all good, but it does not signal the sense of urgency and disquiet in today’s world, let alone tomorrow’s. Climate and decreased economic security and mobility are not simply “today’s issues”—they reflect structural changes in our world and our economy that demand attention.

Second, the statement skirts the issue of the private sector’s role in our societies. At a time when the very essence and value of capitalism are facing serious blowback, the role of the corporation, and corporate leaders, in America gets no attention. Poll after poll shows that the public is deeply upset about the role lobbying plays in Washington. Employees are increasingly calling on companies to take a stand on issues from a woman’s right to choose, to the epidemic of gun violence, to respect for diversity in all its forms. The critiques of capitalism which are being heard across the political spectrum are a natural consequence of the sense by many that the system is deeply unfair and manipulated to benefit the few. This statement does little to address that, and to the degree it is intended to respond to the public challenge to capitalism, it is unlikely to succeed.

Finally, our times are calling for aspirational language—something that can excite people. This statement reveals a notable lack of ambition. Businesses commit to being good partners with their suppliers, but not to ensure alignment of values and commitments. There is no mention of innovation to meet the fast-changing world of the 21st century. Furthermore, the statement fails to make reference to the Sustainable Development Goals, which have been adopted by every country in the world—including the US— as the template for social and economic progress over the coming decade.

If business is to thrive, contribute to social and economic advancement, and secure the trust of the public, more is needed.

At BSR, we have been working with the world’s largest companies since 1992 to make serious commitments to promote human rights, take decisive action on climate change, generate access to economic opportunity for people who need it most, and create workforces in which all people can thrive. I know firsthand from the many CEOs that we work with that there is a genuine level of commitment to business as a powerful engine for social progress. This statement falls short of that ambition and is therefore a disservice to business and the public.

Credit is due to the Roundtable for updating a statement more suited to 2019 than 1969. Much more, however, is needed. If business is to thrive, contribute to social and economic advancement, and secure the trust of the public, more is needed. We celebrate business leaders who can deliver on big ideas that deliver big value and meet big needs. The Roundtable should go back to the drawing board and create a vision that reflects the best of this tradition.

Originally appeared on BSR and 3BL Media News.

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Plastic Bottles for Public Transit: A Growing Trend

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Plastic bottles are now valid fare to ride the subway in Rome, Italy, Fast Company and several travel sites recently reported. You’ll need 30 bottles to get enough credit for one trip, which can be deposited into special fare machines at certain stations. This initiative is part of an effort by Mayor Virginia Raggi to incentivize greater collection and recycling of plastic in her city and follows a similar move by Istanbul, Turkey, last year.

It’s not just European cities either. Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia, a country which happens to be the second largest source of oceanic plastic pollution, launched a similar scheme last year. There, five plastic bottles or 10 plastic cups gets you a two-hour bus ticket, and each bus can collect up to 7.5 tons of plastic a month.

"There has been a good response from the public," Franki Yuanus, a Surabaya transport official, told Agence France Presse (AFP). "Paying with plastic is one of the things that has made people enthusiastic because up until now plastic waste was just seen as useless." Surabaya’s system allowed buses to double as collection facilities and is one of many reasons the city won awards for being an eco-friendly model for the global south.

Istanbul, Rome and Surabaya’s moves are efforts by city governments to tackle what has become a massive crisis. Plastic pollution has, in the past few years, become a major global concern. The stakes are high, as a study released in 2016 by the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy shows our stark future. If we don’t make drastic changes soon, by 2050 our oceans could have more plastic in them than fish.

Of course, recycling is just one part of the solution. We also need to massively reduce the production and use of single-use plastics. We would need less water bottles if tap water was potable, or if there were more refillable water stations everywhere, for example. Shifting from plastic bottles to more efficiently recyclable materials, like aluminum in the case of PepsiCo, is another step. In fact, companies need to lead and do a lot more to solve a problem that they created.

“To put an end to the plastic pollution crisis, corporations need to step up with meaningful, game-changing and authentic measures that would significantly reduce their plastic footprint and move our societies away from the scourge of single-use, throwaway and problematic plastic packaging,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the #Breakfreefromplastic campaign, in a press statement.

For Rome, Istanbul and Surabaya, though, it’s not just about plastic. These cities are also trying to get more users to take public transit, which can reduce the number of cars on the road. That means less congestion, and less greenhouse gas emissions, especially important for cities like Rome which, back in 2017, pledged to be fossil fuel-free by 2030.

Other cities are taking this to the next level—doing away with payments, by cash or plastic, entirely. Dunkirk, a city of 200,000 in northern France, made public transit completely free back last year, as has Tallinn, Estonia, and the entire country of Luxembourg. Their goal is to get more people out of cars and onto more sustainable transit modes—buses, trams, and trains. There’s momentum stateside too, as Los Angeles is considering a similar move soon. The focus in LA is a planned congestion pricing scheme, which would tax vehicular traffic entering urban areas.

Considering that plastic is manufactured from fossil fuels, most often petroleum, making transit free—or de-facto free— through plastic collection schemes can reduce emissions and waste while putting cities on the path toward meeting their sustainability goals. Now we just need more cities and companies to ramp up efforts to ensure all the plastic we produce is recovered and recycled.

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Stonyfield’s Sustainable Land Management Plan Focuses on Soil Health, Sequestering Carbon

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How can sustainable land management succeed when there is also a growing global population to feed?

We can look to Stonyfield Organic as an example of a corporation that has taken sustainability seriously from its inception. The company’s newest initiative focuses even more on agriculture. Known most for its yogurt, Stonyfield recently announced a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, a goal that has been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

We’ll need more companies like Stonyfield if we hope to grow more food for more people and, at a minimum, on the same amount of land. Earlier this month, TriplePundit reported on the Special Report on Climate Change and Land released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Maggie Kohn summarized the report’s findings and noted progress some companies have already made toward elevating the way they grow, process and throw away food.

The IPCC report explains how our current land use contributes to climate change and how climate change affects our food systems. The report emphasizes that we must manage land sustainably and capitalize on its carbon sequestering processes if we hope to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris climate agreement. Stonyfield is a case study on how to move forward with such a plan.

How Stonyfield is pushing ahead on sustainable land management

“A commitment to sustainability was the entire reason we started Stonyfield … it is literally our DNA,” Gary Hirshberg, co-founder, chairman and “chief organic optimist” at Stonyfield Organic, told TriplePundit in an email.

Hirshberg continues:

“Whether in supporting thousands of family farmers in advancing organic and regenerative methods that avoid unnecessary toxic chemicals, sequestering more carbon, preserving habitats and promoting biodiversity or using cutting edge sustainability practices in our manufacturing, I’m proud that we’ve made a difference in the world. And we still have a long way to go. I deeply believe that the greatest hope for our planet lies in all businesses making similar commitments.”

As a mission-driven business, Stonyfield takes sustainability seriously. The company has teams across the business that do their part to cut carbon emissions at every point, include agriculture, energy, waste, packaging and logistics. Agriculture accounts for half of Stonyfield’s carbon emissions, Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield, explained to TriplePundit during a recent interview.

Setting an official science-based target has reinvigorated the company’s work on sustainability, Lundgren says. One project in the works will help Stonyfield cut carbon specifically from its agricultural activity. Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management, or OpenTEAM, will be the first open source platform to help farmers improve the health of their soil.

The project is a collaboration of Stonyfield, the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, FFAR (Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research), farmers and other food companies.

The platform aims to be a network to share knowledge and data between farmers, scientists and companies. It will be “farmer-driven,” Dave Herring, executive director of Wolfe’s Neck, told TriplePundit in an email. When the application launches, farmers will not only be able to add data to the platform, they will be able to develop their own tools within the system.

“In order for farmers to improve their practices, they first need to know how they are doing,” Herring says. “OpenTEAM, when fully operational, will give farmers real-time feedback about the outcomes of their farming practices – specific to environmental outcomes like soil, organic matter, air quality and water (retention, filtration, absorption and quality) and more.”

Part of the beauty of OpenTEAM is that it will allow farms to discover the most logical opportunity for them to improve their soil health instead of applying a general formula, Lundgren says.

Most importantly, this healthier soil will actually help sequester more carbon through increased living roots, microbial diversity and stable organic matter, a promotional video explains.

How will Stonyfield use OpenTEAM to meet its goals?

Lundgren and her team will be able to track the activities of Stonyfield’s farmers and eventually reward them for the carbon they sequester, similar to a carbon offset program.

“We think that every farm has the potential to increase soil carbon sequestration,” Lundgren says.

Stonyfield has also found that its efforts towards becoming more sustainable generally lead to cost savings. Lundgren points to lightweight packaging and reducing emissions from transport as two examples. It is unlikely that OpenTEAM will be an exception.

“When you work on improving soil health, you’re not only going to increase your carbon sequestration, but you’re also going to improve the quality of your forage and the yield of your forage. So you’re actually creating more nutrition for your cows at the same time that you’re creating climate benefits,” Lundgren explains. Healthier cows might just produce tastier milk for yogurt.

IPCC recommendations and business goals

To companies still unsure whether an investment in sustainability can be worthwhile, Lundgren says companies need to have foresight. “There is an insurance and risk-prevention strategy that is also a big part of doing this work on climate change,” she says.

“I think there are going to be challenges for everyone along the way to doing this,” Lundgren continues, “but I don’t think that those challenges are as great as the challenges that we are going to face if we don’t successfully do something to reduce the amount of carbon that we are putting into the atmosphere at a really rapid pace.”

Hirshberg says he can’t think of a sustainability investment that has not enhanced the company’s growth or profitability, and he’s confident about the company’s most recent endeavors. “OpenTeam and SBTi are just two of our most recent initiatives and I am certain they both will make huge financial sense.”

When asked what he would say to companies that are afraid to make the commitment to carbon reduction, Hirshberg added, “Today’s consumers are savvy and they’re increasingly looking for transparent, mission-driven companies using their platforms and resources to make concrete, positive impacts on the planet – Stonyfield’s success is living proof of that, and businesses who ignore these trends do so at their peril.”

Read more about Stonyfield’s story in Hirshberg’s book Stirring It Up, How to Make Money and Save the World.

Image credit: Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment

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Get With the Goals: Corporate Reporting on the SDGs

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By Alyson Genovese, Director of GRI’s USA and Canada Regional Hub

Adopted in 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a shared plan for all countries – developed and developing – to end poverty, spur economic growth and protect our planet’s environment. The SDGs represent the first time that the private sector was included as a partner with a key role in reaching the goals.

Yet when it comes to the global context and scale of the SDGs, it can be difficult for individual companies to determine how they should consider and respond to the challenges and priorities of the SDGs. The goals were written for member states, so interpreting them in a business context isn’t always easy. However, they offer companies a route map and a universal platform for engagement – regardless of a company’s geographic location, industry or size.

So, what is the current state of play? A recent PwC study of more than 700 multi-national companies found 72 percent of published sustainability reports mentioned the SDGs, but just 23 percent included meaningful KPIs and targets. Our own tracking, meanwhile (inclusive of all reporting organizations, regardless of size) shows 31 percent of GRI sustainability reports published on our database in 2018 included a commitment to the SDGs.

While these data sets and reference points differ, both results indicate there is still work to do. Many companies have issued public commitments to the SDGs – and in some cases mapped their materiality assessments to individual goals. Yet examples of aligning the SDGs with corporate strategy – supported by initiatives, R&D or investment that accelerate their achievement – are infrequent.

GRI is the world’s leading provider of sustainability disclosure standards and as such is perfectly placed to provide the framework companies need to assess their contribution to the SDGs. For example, some of the most recent updates to the GRI Standards, for water and occupational health & safety, embed SDGs references and language.

Alongside the UN Global Compact and with input from companies and nonprofit partners, GRI created the Business Reporting on the SDGs Action Platform, providing tools for businesses to analyze the goals and targets, with step-by-step practical reporting guidance on making the connections between their disclosures and the corresponding SDG targets.

Meanwhile, Driving corporate action towards accomplishing the SDGs is a new GRI initiative, launched in July in partnership with global power company Enel. It involves online collaboration forums to explore how the goals are influencing reporting and contributing to new partnerships or ways of working. Regional events in 2020 will spread learning.

GRI continues to collaborate with the UN and other organizations to increase reporting for the SDGs around the world. Projects included a pilot project in Colombia last year, whereby the government became the first to use data from corporate reporting to assess business contributions and impacts on key sustainability topics, as part of their Voluntary National Review on SDGs progress. GRI is currently supporting Colombia to expand this project, alongside similar initiatives in Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Our aim is to help companies understand the business relevance of the SDGs on their strategy and financial performance – and take action accordingly.  Embedding SDG reporting within corporate disclosures is a crucial step to making this connection, as well as meeting the transparency needs of stakeholders.

The global challenges set out in the SDGs are ambitious. Yet the rewards, in terms of global development and prosperity, are significant. That is why it is fundamental that the private sector takes on a greater role in contributing towards their fulfillment.

Previously posted on GRI's Medium blog and 3BL Media news.

Image credit of Medellín, Colombia: Joel Duncan/Unsplash

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The SDGs encourage the private sector to reach various social and environmental goals by 2030. A pilot project to this effect just wrapped up in Colombia.
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As Immigration Battle Heats Up, Googlers Take Preemptive Action

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Earlier this year, several employees at the leading advertising agency Edelman convinced the firm’s executives to drop work with a for-profit prison company. Now hundreds of Google employees, or “Googlers,” are engaged in a similar issue, with two big differences: They are taking their case public, calling Google to act in support of its human rights policies.

Googlers are taking preemptive action

The activism at Edelman surfaced on the public radar only after word leaked out that employees at the firm were refusing to work on a new contract with the Florida-based company Geo Group, a company specializing in the privatization of correctional facilities, detention centers and mental health treatment.

Though Edelman’s contractual status with Geo was unclear, the firm reportedly had taken Geo on as a client (Geo is no longer an Edelman client.)

Google employees are taking matters a step farther.

Rather than waiting for their company to enter into a relationship with an undesirable client, hundreds of Google employees and allies have publicly signed their names to an online petition, pledging not to work on a potential project for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Taking a stand for human rights

The contract in question would be for cloud services for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Although Google has not yet signed the contract, that was enough to spark pushback. In a petition posted on Medium on August 14, the Google protest group laid out a carefully documented ethical argument against competing for the contract.

The petition first directs attention to Google’s history of protesting human right abuses from the outset of the Trump administration, stating: “In January of 2017 thousands of Googlers, including our executives, joined together to protest the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban. This was the right thing to do and we are proud to work at a place that reflects these values.”

The petition argues that these same values obligate employees to refuse work on any contract that violates human rights: “…It’s time to stand together again and state clearly that we will not work on any such contract. We demand that Google publicly commit not to support CBP, ICE, or ORR with any infrastructure, funding, or engineering resources, directly or indirectly, until they stop engaging in human rights abuses.”

Google employees call out “purpose-washing”

The protestors have a point. The petition reminds Google that it has “repeatedly advertised its commitments to implementing ethical guardrails on its tech.” In particular, the petition cites Google’s own principles for artificial intelligence, which to summarize, state that “Google will not build technologies ‘whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.’”

In short, the petition calls out Google for purpose-washing: Formulating high moral or ethical standards, but not following through when meaningful action is needed.

Why Google, why now?

The employee petition comes at a fraught time for Google. The company has weathered at least four high-profile media attacks in recent days.

The sequence began on August 1 with a “scathing” op-ed in The New York Times slamming Google over sharing its technology with China instead of with the U.S. Department of Defense. It was written by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel. That byline obscured several conflicts of interest, as Business Insider explains:

“Thiel sits on the board of Facebook, which competes with Google…He is also the chairman and founder of Palantir, which competes with Google…And he's an investor in Anduril… that's providing artificial-intelligence tools to the U.S. military.”

Also of note is Thiel’s instrumental role in the President’s 2016 campaign, his ongoing work with the Trump administration, and his financial support for the 2020 re-election campaign.

That affinity was made clear in the early morning hours of August 6 when President Trump followed up on Twitter with a criticism mirroring the Thiel op-ed.

TechCrunch summed up the series of tweets, reporting that “the President criticized Google and its CEO Sundar Pichai “for alleged ties to election tampering and China’s military.”

The following day, Gene Marks of the consulting firm The Marks Group published an op-ed in The Hill that also took note of the Thiel op-ed.

Project Veritas contributed to the series with a “staff report” posted on its website on August 14. The non-profit, it should be noted, is often cited for misleading and deceptively edited videos targeting progressive individuals and entities. The August 14 report was a refresher course in other Veritas material recently targeting Google.

Bubbling under the surface of all this criticism was an article in Forbes on June 10, which reports that Google’s data may have helped establish potentially illegal coordination between the 2016 Trump campaign and Wikileaks.

Corporate culture collides with employee activism

An August 13 long-form piece in Wired by reporter Nitasha Tiku also hints at a connection between the recent partisan attacks on Google. Tiku describes the company’s somewhat restrained efforts to work with the Federal government during the Trump administration, notwithstanding the conflicts with its professed values.

Tiku emphasizes that on an individual level, Googlers have suffered no such restraint. In fact, Tiku writes that Google’s corporate culture all but requires employees to speak up on human rights issues — and they have been doing so, loudly and frequently.

It remains to be seen if Google executives will respond to employee activism in this case. As one indication, last year the company decided not to renew a Defense Department contract for Maven, a project that paired artificial intelligence and drone technology.

The Maven decision later proved fodder for the Thiel op-ed, but it did enable Google to act on the company’s “Don’t be Evil” slogan — and not just for the sake of being good.

Bottom-line considerations were also in play, as dozens of employees reportedly resigned over the Maven work, and thousands more signed a petition asking Google to back out. In an age where tech companies are in a global race to recruit top talent, the company could ill afford a brain drain.

Regardless of partisan attacks, for companies like Edelman and Google, the long-term rewards for doing the right thing may well outweigh the risks of pushing back against human rights abuses during the Trump administration.

Be sure to join us at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., on October 29-30, 2019. One theme we’ll explore is how companies, with employees at the helm, are reinventing themselves – whether it’s redefining their purpose, making social impact commitments or finding where to put a stake in the ground. Receive a 25 percent discount using this code PUNDIT2019AUGUST when you register here during the month of August, 2019.

Image credit: Mitch Lensink/Unsplash

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As Immigration Heats Up, Googlers Take Preemptive Action
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Memo to Pro-LGBTQ Companies: Stop Donating to Anti-LGBTQ Politicians

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“A good act does not wash out the bad,” wrote American author George R. R. Martin more than 20 years ago. That’s the message LGBTQ groups are sending to many well-known brands, including those that insist they deserve to be listed among the ranks of pro-LGBTQ companies.

Earlier this year, the queer news site LGBTQ Nation made the point that many pro-LGBTQ companies celebrating Pride Month were at the same time donating to politicians hostile to the community. The list included some of the most recognizable initials in the business world, including AT&T, UPS, GE and UBS.

Many of these companies score perfectly on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index; but, as writer Matt Keeley wrote earlier this summer, it’s a tough sell to say you’re one of the leading pro-LGBTQ companies if checks are also sent to political leaders like U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who at one time claimed the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard – now widely considered a hate crime -- was a “hoax.”

Pro-LGBTQ companies: be aware of any financial connections

This backlash against companies is not only about to whom these businesses donates funds – it’s also about their ties to investors as well.

The latest brand to be accused of “pink-washing” (some call it “queer-washing”) is Equinox, the high-end health club chain that includes more than a few gay men and women as members. The company became the target of many critics earlier this month when it turned out that Stephen Ross, an investor in the company, had scheduled a fundraiser for U.S. President Donald Trump in the Hamptons.

“The Equinox situation represents a corollary,” wrote TriplePundit’s Tina Casey, “Behind-the-scenes brand owners and investors are also expected to act in ways that reflect and support the brand image.”

To its credit, the company has responded to the ongoing backlash with last week’s announcement it would donate $1 million to five charities – and members of Equinox will vote on how those funds will be distributed.

According to Newsweek, a longtime employer explained in a company-wide conference call why the political fundraiser was problematic for both gym members and employees:

“Even though [Ross] is an investor, the money that people pay to Equinox still goes in his pocket. And they know that, and that is the problem. Equinox can say, 'We don't view this, we don't view this,' as much as they want, but the problem is that the money people are spending is enriching him, and he is giving it to this person that is really polarizing.”

Activists call out inconsistent corporate behavior

In the wake of the Equinox controversy, LGBTQ activists are increasingly urging both consumers, as well as employees, to speak out and pressure companies to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ political leaders.

Zero for Zeros is an example of a campaign that is working overtime to highlight what its organizers say is the hypocrisy of companies that swoon over the LGBTQ community while offering financial support to anti-LGBTQ politicians. Brands in Zero for Zeros’ crosshairs read like an A-to-Z of multinationals, from Amazon to Wells Fargo. And the list of politicians is just as long, with the campaign citing numerous examples of past quotes and previously sponsored legislation that would have drastically undermined legal protection for LGBTQ citizens.

The group’s clarion call? Companies that are allies to LGBTQ employees and customers should not give money to elected officials that lead the fight against equality.

Tension between LGBTQ groups and companies is one part of the growing expectation that companies must go beyond saying they are pro-environment, pro-employee and pro-social impact. Stakeholders are increasingly demanding that companies become more transparent about lobbying expenditures, corporate political contributions, and memberships in trade associations.

Just as a company can’t tout its investments in renewables while financially supporting the fossil fuels industry, a company will now find itself in an awkward if it is brags about being pro-LGBTQ, yet continues to donate to anti-gay politicians.

Join us at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., on October 29-30, 2019. One issue we’ll explore is how more companies are choosing to lead with "purpose." Yet, while some brands live and breathe their purpose, other efforts are only skin deep. We take a look at the good and the bad of purpose and how a company “pulls purpose” through the entire brand experience – to authentically find, live and tell their purpose. Receive a 25 percent discount using this code PUNDIT2019AUGUST when you register here during the month of August, 2019.

Image credit: Jordan McDonald/Unsplash

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