U.S. Companies Launch “Time to Vote” Campaign

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With the U.S. 2018 midterm elections less than a month away, the major political parties have shifted into high gear, both sides energized by the recent controversial confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Media attention on this hotly contested election is only intensifying.

“I really do think the upcoming election in November is one of the most important in American history,” says Professor Francis Fukuyama of Stanford University, author of Identity: The Demand For Dignity And The Politics Of Resentment.

But the crux of the matter is: will American voters turn out? Skepticism is warranted. The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, as low as 36 percent. Compare that to voter participation in Australia (93 percent) or Sweden (86 percent).

Giving workers time to vote

Now the corporate world has entered the fray. More than 150 companies including Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss & Co., Patagonia, PayPal, Tyson Foods and Walmart are supporting the Time to Vote campaign, a nonpartisan effort led by CEOs aimed at increasing voter participation.  

Why don’t more Americans vote? One of the most common reasons that people give for not voting is that they are too busy, or have work and life demands that prevent them from voting. We also can’t discount voters’ disillusionment with politicians and the political process. Can U.S. companies change their minds?

The organizers say companies can do a lot more to make it easier for their employees to vote. For instance, they can allow time for employees to vote by providing paid time off, a day without meetings, and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. In fact, some 26 states already have laws on the books to give employees time off to vote. Here’s what some companies say they are doing:

  • Patagonia is closing for business on Election Day so that any one of their U.S.-based employees can vote (the company first did this in 2016).

  • Levi’s is giving corporate employees five hours to vote on Election Day, and retail employees will have three hours to vote.

  • Walmart created a website with resources to help people get informed and to the polls.

  • Lyft is offering ride discounts and giving free rides to the polls for people in “underserved communities” -  the company is also partnering with the nonprofits Urban League and Voto Latino to decide what falls under this umbrella.

An underlying agenda?

Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario says, “The momentum around Time to Vote gives me hope for a future where business can act as a force for good. Together, we can remove barriers to civic participation and encourage all American workers to be citizens and voters first.”

Yet civic duty alone is not the only driver of the Time To Vote campaign. As reported in Vox, the vast majority of names on the list of participants have previously expressed some kind of resistance to President Trump’s agenda. For instance, the CEOs of Gap, Eileen Fisher, Levi Strauss, and others participating in Time to Vote voiced opposition to Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement last March.

Regardless of underlying motive, the effort is feeding into an electorate that is already fired up. A Pew polling showed 78 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans saying the election “really matters” and that the outcome is important to them. If voter turnout on Nov 6 manages to make a dent in the country’s voting apathy, corporate involvement in increasing voter turnout may well become a regular feature of the political landscape.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Kiva Fosters New Partnerships to Boost Financial Inclusion via Blockchain Technology

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Micro-lending veteran Kiva is continuing its quest to alleviate poverty by expanding its scope to address the global identity gap.  

According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion people are unbanked, and of that total 1 billion of them do not have an official proof of identity. Without the ability to prove their identity, people cannot access basic services like having a mobile phone, enrolling in education or healthcare systems, or participating in local societies, economies and politics. Financial inclusion without discrimination has therefore been identified as a key enabler of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and registering everyone with a legal identity has become an important target for 2030.

Lack of formal identity, money, and trust for finance providers, along with the inability to verify any credit history, are the main barriers to financial inclusion. To address these issues Kiva has tied up with the UN Capital Development Fund and the UN Development Program to launch the Kiva Protocol, an initiative to help the unbanked get digital identities and protect their own credit information using blockchain technology. The program will enable the secure collection of data to help people access the financial services they need, be it for businesses, education or healthcare services.

As announced at the beginning of the 73rd UN General Assembly by Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio, the initiative will launch in Sierra Leone next year. The pilot will implement a nationwide digital identification system over the next three years to widen the country’s financial inclusion landscape. At the moment, 80 percent of the population in Sierra Leone is unbanked and the country only has one credit bureau that holds data of less than 1 percent of its population.

Kiva has been operational in Sierra Leone since 2007 and has distributed over $12 million in loans to its citizens. The organization's experience in the country over the last 11 years, alongside support from the government, was reason Kiva choose Sierra Leone as a starting point.

The Kiva Protocol system will help users receive, manage and repay micro loans issued by Kiva via mobile phone, or through a microfinance institution or field partner working in their community. The data accumulated on the system will be used to establish a credit score for participants. Information will be accessible both online and offline.

The digital identification system that the Kiva Protocol plans to use will be built on blockchain to give people secure and complete ownership of their personal data. No institution or government will be able to access the information without authorization from the owner. Blockchain is a decentralized digital database that can only be updated by consensus between all users, making it near impossible to hack; furthermore, KYC (know your customer) due diligence will need to be done only once, saving the program a tremendous amount of time and money.

Providing formal digital identities as a means to financial inclusion has advantages for both the public and private sector, including increased access to services, increased transparency and efficiency, and the prevention of fraud. Ultimately this could not only reduce poverty in a responsible and sustainable way, but also fuel rapid economic growth. According to a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute, digital finance alone could spur inclusive growth that adds $3.7 trillion to the GDP of emerging economies within a decade. This expansion of financial inclusion could create up to 95 million new jobs across all sectors of the economy.

Both governments and the private sector have a pivotal role to play in propelling financial inclusion for all, urging public-private partnerships to lead the way. Partnerships like that of the Kiva Protocol are catalysts for building a more inclusive society and "fintech" disruptions like blockchain are tools to facilitate it.

Image credit: Kiva. Images are provided by Kiva to advance its mission of connecting people around the world through lending to alleviate poverty.

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How Businesses Can Be Environmentally Friendly and Still Make a Profit

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Businesses don't have to compromise profitability for an eco-friendly restructuring of their current practices. More often than not, they benefit from the transition.

In a market where the carbon footprint of a conglomerate can tarnish its reputation, companies large and small should make a concerted effort to reduce their negative impact on the environment. They have a responsibility to the public to produce goods and services sustainably.

So where does an executive in upper management even begin? What changes can they make to their current procedures to ensure both the continued health of their company and the planet? In other words — what are cost-effective, sustainable solutions that won't be impossible to budget for?

In this article, we'll detail how a business can move toward environmental friendliness while not moving away from their goals.

Sustainable Procurement

For the manager who feels ensnared between environmental responsibilities and economic realities, sourcing is the most common issue. Fortunately, sustainable procurement is an option that's growing in both popularity and availability as prices fall. As an alternative to conventional sourcing, it has a significant impact.

The products that an average business consumes, processes and discards as waste can accumulate at an alarming rate. Sustainable procurement allows managers to source their necessary supplies in a renewable way, using recycled materials and substances that aren't toxic to the environment.

Should a manager shop around, they'll likely find a supplier that provides the same goods they've grown accustomed to without a serious increase in price. The price is often lower, a result of the growing pressure of corporate accountability that urges manufacturers to replace outdated means of production.

Energy Restructuring

Shifting the energy infrastructure of an entire office building is an admittedly expensive task. It's time-consuming and labor-intensive, with noisy work crews disturbing the peace of an otherwise serene white-collar ecosystem. For many companies, that scale of restructuring simply isn't in the budget.

But the benefits of renewable energy on large-scale operations are undeniable. EnergySage market data suggests that an average commercial property in the U.S. can save up to 75 percent by investing in solar power. The average monthly electric bill for a commercial property reduced from $1950 to $500 after the switch.

Still, the price of installation on a commercial property often represents a barrier to entry that's too steep for smaller businesses to afford. But with the steady increase in the popularity of alternative energy, business owners can expect a drop in price as the incentivized technology becomes more available.

Green Building

An executive asked to decide between constructing a building from conventional materials or green materials might flinch toward the former. The word "green" connotes "different," and anything that strays from the status quo is more often than not expensive — or at least, costlier than the standard.

Fortunately for indecisive executives, sourcing eco-friendly companies to construct their building doesn't have to break the bank. It's a common misconception that green buildings are far more expensive to produce, but the rise in cost is marginal and easily supplemented by the eventual gains.

In sourcing safe concrete and renewable materials from the best providers available, savings accumulate for both power and water utilities. A business can operate their LEED-certified building at an almost 20 percent reduction in maintenance costs. Carbon emissions see a drastic cut, as well.

Embracing Eco-Innovation

A relatively new addition to the sustainable business leader’s vocabulary, eco-innovation is defined as an economic effort that operates with respect for the environment. It may seem like a synonym for "eco-friendly," but the term "eco-innovation" is far more complex with a greater depth and scope.

Sustainable companies with a focus on eco-innovation receive more attention from potential investors interested in supporting a company that displays moral integrity and fair business practices. Having a strong voice in the conservation community can attract attention from wealthy contributors.

In addition to good publicity, companies that adopt eco-innovation change their policies to reflect their responsibility. They're able to avoid the costly consequences of environmental regulations and win the good favor of eco-conscious individuals. In short, it's a powerful way to rebrand and rebuild.

Replace Outdated Appliances

If the total conversion of a building's electrical infrastructure seems unrealistic, there are small ways that a manager can ensure that his or her office runs at peak efficiency. The solution is as simple as replacing the current appliances and light bulbs and replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives.

A universally popular brand for both commercial and residential buildings, Energy Star is a trusted name in sustainability. In addition to the impressive energy efficiency of their models, each Energy Star appliance has a label that shows the user the amount of power the device will consume over time.

However, Energy Star appliances do tend to sell at a higher cost than their inefficient counterparts. But an office building's monthly savings in their electricity bill accumulate over time to make up for that initial cost. With patience, a small change now will yield a sizable result down the line

It Begins With a Single Step

Executives early in their journey toward sustainability should assess their office, crunching the numbers to note its efficiency in different areas. How much goes toward electricity, water and other necessities? Of these monthly expenses, how much unnecessary waste do the employees produce?

By having an outline of the office's expenditure, a manager can research possible solutions with a clear perspective. But they should strike it from their mind that they're making an expensive sacrifice. Instead, they're making an investment not only in their business— but in the world.

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Lessons in the Power of Data for Good and Pro Bono

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In 2017, giving to charitable causes in the United States reached an estimated $410 billion, a record for the third straight year. And yet, despite this growing generosity, the needs have not decreased. One in eight Americans still struggles with hunger, and the poverty rate in the United States has fluctuated between 11 and 15 percent for over fifty years. Increasing charitable giving may not be the long-term answer to resolving complex social challenges. Instead, growth in skills-based volunteering and pro bono projects could be key to unlocking new solutions.

This week marks Pro Bono Week, an annual initiative that celebrates and encourages professionals who use their skills and expertise to support nonprofits and advance social change. Whether pro bono work is completely new for your company or it’s already a strategic part of your philanthropic giving, Pro Bono Week is a great opportunity to review and reflect on how collaborations between your company and nonprofit organizations can advance challenging social issues.

Since Nielsen Cares, our global employee volunteer program began in 2010, skills-based volunteering and pro bono work have been integral to our strategy. By leveraging the data and analytical capabilities that we have as a company, our Data for Good projects have been anchored in Nielsen’s data, products and insights to help nonprofit organizations maximize their impact through improved outreach, messaging, effectiveness and efficiency. So, what have we learned in the eight years since our pro bono journey began? Here are a few of my key takeaways as our program continues to evolve.

Identify Strategic Focus Areas

When you’re considering where to prioritize your pro bono efforts, focus areas should align with your company’s strategy and capabilities. With so many organizations in need, these areas help to act as a filter for the type of projects and relationships your company can consider, and allow you to make a deeper impact over time. Resources like Taproot Foundation’s Pro Bono Sweet Spot can help your company narrow in on key areas. At Nielsen, we settled on four areas of social need that aligned with our business strategy:

  • Hunger and nutrition: The global data we collect about food pricing and consumption, as well as data analysis techniques, can provide nonprofits with the insights they need to drive more efficient and impactful programs.

  • Education: As a professional services company that relies on a STEM-educated workforce, we strive to enable the next generation of leaders to excel in reading, computer literacy, and math.

  • Diversity and inclusion: We help to economically empower diverse communities by increasing awareness of diverse consumer demographics and by driving career readiness for all.

  • Technology: Just as Nielsen’s business depends on technology, social issues can be addressed in new ways through new technology-based solutions.
Communicate a Goal

Having a public goal can help to communicate more strategically about your pro bono projects externally and advocate for pro bono work internally, especially with business leaders who may be new to the company or unfamiliar with your company’s philanthropic investments. Since 2012, Nielsen has pledged $10 million annually in pro bono work, skills-based volunteering, and in-kind giving through A Billion Plus Change. In 2016, that annual pledge fueled our long-term goal to contribute a cumulative $50 million in-kind from 2016 to the end of 2020. By using publicly available resources like the Points of Light volunteer calculator or CECP/Taproot’s standards, valuing your pro bono commitments can really help you to secure internal buy-in and gain external credibility.

Lean In to Experts

If you don’t know where to start with your pro bono program, don’t hesitate to turn to expert organizations. For example, SAP launched their Social Sabbatical for Local Engagement program with PYXERA Global, which has sent over 150 pro bono volunteers across 50 projects in 9 global cities. Databases like Taproot+, Catchafire, and VolunteerMatch can help your employees search for individual opportunities. Browsing those sites and researching the work of the largest organizations working in your focus areas can help you brainstorm project ideas.

Empower Your People

The best source of potential projects could be your own employees. Often times, they have existing relationships with nonprofit organizations and are eager to make a social impact while using or developing their skills. Consider asking interested employees what skills they already have, and what skills they would like to gain through pro bono work. Align with business goals by working with your Human Resources department or a business leader to develop pro bono projects that marry nonprofit needs with individual and business needs. This approach helps to maximize the opportunity for all parties involved. If you have a volunteer time polic, like Nielsen’s 24 hours of Dedicated Volunteer Time, remind employees they can use that time for pro bono and skills-based work.

Define Your Scope

The most effective pro bono projects often happen when a nonprofit organization has a clearly defined need. Common Impact has a Nonprofit Readiness Toolkit for skills-based volunteering that can help you define your scoping questions. Next, the right volunteers can be matched with the project, and the scope and goals can be agreed upon by both the organization and volunteers. Non-disclosure agreements and project contracts can help to ensure both groups are on the same page, as well as mitigate risk.

Collaborate vs. Deliver

Earlier, I used “collaborate” to describe pro bono work between nonprofits and companies, rather than “deploy” or “deliver” private sector expertise to the nonprofit. After I attended the Taproot Foundation’s Pro Bono Summit in April, I learned that the language we use about pro bono work matters. If we “deploy volunteer experts” to nonprofit organizations, it may create the perception of a one-way dialogue— meaning the private sector experts deliver the solutions, and the nonprofit leaders receive them to implement. Instead, pro bono work should be done “with” and not “for” organizations. When private and nonprofit sector leaders can learn from each other by sharing their challenges and collaborating on new social solutions, that’s when the innovative magic of cross-sector pro bono partnerships can happen.

Image credit: Adobe Stock/LIGHTHOUSE STUDIO

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Harnessing Mobile Technology to Train Supply Chain Workers

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Dell has a large and dynamic supply chain, with supplier facilities located in many regions around the world and many suppliers involved at multiple tiers in the manufacturing process. We require all suppliers to comply with all applicable laws and recognized international standards, and also abide by the high social and environmental responsibility (SER) standards outlined in the Responsible Business Alliance Code of Conduct and Dell Supplier Principles.

We take a comprehensive approach to monitoring and improving suppliers’ performance through our risk assessments, audit process, corrective action plan management and capability-building programs. The size and complexity of our supply chain make capability building especially important. To drive lasting change in SER performance over time, we must help suppliers develop their own systems for preventing, managing and correcting issues.

We offer suppliers a variety of online and in-person trainings — on topics ranging from working hours to environmental management — that they can then cascade to their workers. Dell’s SER specialists in each region engage with suppliers to review audit findings, corrective action plans and root cause analyses, and help develop and deliver trainings to drive sustained performance. In FY18, supervisors and administrators at nearly 300 Dell supplier facilities completed our capability-building trainings.

To help suppliers scale their training efforts, we sponsored a health and safety training in April 2017 that is delivered directly to workers on their mobile phones. In just nine months, more than 88 percent of workers at 20 supplier facilities completed the training (35,000 workers total).

We decided to utilize a mobile training platform because our research revealed it can be difficult for suppliers to pull large groups of people off the manufacturing floor for training, yet most workers use mobile phones. Because mobile-based training is delivered directly to workers, suppliers don’t need to spend time sourcing and delivering classes on their own. This makes the training cost-effective for suppliers to access and easy for Dell to scale across many suppliers and workers worldwide.

We customized mobile-based trainings on health and safety, using suppliers’ and workers’ feedback to tailor the modules to meet their needs. The trainings use videos, animation and quizzes to create an engaging experience covering topics such as machine safety and emergency response.

We chose health and safety as our inaugural training topic because our biennial supplier audits revealed some nonconformance issues in this area. Dell’s benchmark survey of workers’ knowledge of health and safety topics also revealed some gaps. Health and safety issues affect workers directly, and we are committed to improving their well-being. Among the China-based suppliers participating in our mobile-based training pilot, we used the app WeChat to further educate and engage workers, regularly sending health-related articles and even sponsoring a video competition among workers to build excitement about using the platform.

Our initial surveys show the training improved workers’ scores on health and safety questions by up to 10 percent in one year, and suppliers say the trainings are fun, engaging and cost-saving.

“There is no doubt that this type of training, which uses smartphone as its tool, is more convenient and diverse compared with traditional training. The workers can get access to all kinds of information they want to know anytime and anywhere, and all they need is only a phone and network,” said Serena Xu, Compal’s assistant human resources director.

We are working to expand the mobile-based training to additional suppliers and to introduce new trainings on topics such as educating workers on their rights from onboarding to resignation. We will work with our suppliers and SER specialists to determine additional training topics based on feedback from workers and audit findings.

Previously posted on 3BL Media news.

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Leveraging New Tech to Wean America Off Its Addiction to the Plastic Water Bottle

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It’s finally clear—the single-use plastic water bottle is now the environmental cigarette, stigmatized as a mark of disgrace in a growing circle of consumers. The mega-trend away from single-use plastics is no longer deniable.

The statistics around single-use plastic water bottles are astounding:

  • There are 50 billion water bottles consumed every year, about 30 billion of them in the US. 

  • Approximately 80 percent of single-use plastic water bottles don’t get recycled.

  • Every square mile in the ocean has over 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it, the biggest culprits of which are plastic bottles and bags.

  • Over 90 percent of some of the most popular bottled waters brands contain micro-plastics.

  • Plastic bottles are made from PET and often contain BPA and phthalates, both of which are endocrine disruptors harmful to health—both in drinking from them and by leeching into the environment through our aquatic system.

  • By the year 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic (by weight) than fish.
The impact of this is extensive, from the amount of energy we waste in producing these bottles to the downstream impact on our environment and aquatic life, not to mention the micro-particulates that end up in our bodies.  

As bad as this sounds, two simple question often get asked: “If the effects of plastic bottles are so devastating, why do so many people continue to drink bottled water?” And, “Why don’t they just drink tap water instead?”

The majority of American consumers (77 percent in one survey) either don’t like or trust tap water. So quite simply, many won’t drink it. And this is what’s created a big bottled water market with a destructive environmental impact. There are inherent issues with the U.S. tap water system: High lead levels are not just a Flint, Michigan problem, but far too prevalent throughout the U.S. Our millions of miles of aging infrastructure can contaminate even the cleanest source water. And at the source, tap water contains chlorine, fluoride, and now, studies show, trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, herbicides, pesticides, and inorganic solids.

Further, in many places throughout the U.S. tap water just doesn’t “taste right” to consumer palates. In some cases, it tastes downright awful. Often, this is due to high total dissolved solid content (TDS), which doesn’t get substantially removed in municipal water treatment facilities. Ultimately, much of our access to public-use tap water is via water fountains or water coolers that do nothing (or minimal at best) to filter out and remove these impurities, and the resultant taste of the tap water is unrefined and unchanged. The end result is that consumers behave as consumers do—they make decisions based on preference, and, when they prefer the taste of something over tap water, it’s created the new environmental cigarette problem: single use bottled water pollution

Unlike other plastic products like straws and bags, there aren’t readily available alternatives to plastic water bottles that can easily be adopted. The simple removal of straws still provides consumers a way to drink their beverage—by sipping, if nothing else, or the replacement of a plastic straw with a paper one. The same applies for plastic bags, where alternatives are readily available in the form of recyclable paper or reusable bags. Replacing plastic water bottles, a far larger environmental problem, requires a much higher degree of change in consumer behavior.

What will it take to wean America off of its addiction to the plastic water bottle?

One solution is to create a pathway for consumers to fall in love with tap water again—not by pushing them back to the tap itself but rather by transforming tap water and making it their preferred alternative to bottled water.  

There are several ways to make this happen. Our approach has been the development of a product called the FloWater Refill Station, which has a new-tech purification system that not only purifies the water but enhances its benefits and taste.

The challenge is in educating the market about both the dynamics surrounding packaged water—and water itself. A substantial component to what FloWater is building is education around changing consumer behavior. It’s not with a message as simplified as ““bottled water is bad” but “you can actually have access to something that as a consumer you’ll love more than bottled water…and you can do something good for the environment as a result.”

Over the past three years, we have partnered with hotels, schools, corporations, and retail outlets in 42 states to deliver this different kind of plastic-free, drinking water experience for their employees and guests. We recently hit the 50-million mark in the number of plastic water bottles eliminated from the market, and we are on track to hit a billion by 2022.

As a growing number of consumers, businesses and municipalities turn away from single-use plastics like straws and grocery bags, developing alternatives to the plastic water bottle is a critical challenge. A major shift in how water is delivered and consumed is inevitable.

Image credit: Pixabay

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More Women Are Serving on Corporate Boards, But Parity is a Long Way Off

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American companies are putting more women in leadership positions, but they still have a long way to go, according to recent research.

Within the Russell 3000, an equity index that tracks the 3,000 largest US-traded stocks, 82 percent of companies now have at least one woman on their board of directors—up from 77 percent in March of last year, according to financial data analysis firm FactSet. Less than half (47 percent) have boards comprised of less than 15 percent women, compared to 58 percent last year.

At the CEO level, only 151 companies within the Russell 3000—or roughly 5 percent of the index—are headed by women, but that still represents a marginal improvement over the 143 companies with female CEOs last year. These findings mirror recent analyses of the Fortune 500—in which only 24 companies are headed by women.

Though these firms are few and far between, companies with female CEOs are more likely to have women on their boards. “Of the 521 companies in the Russell 3000 that have zero female board members, only four have female CEOs,” Katherine Guerard, a training specialist with FactSet, wrote in a blog post announcing the findings. The inverse is also true—when a company’s board is comprised of 40 percent women or more, the likelihood that it will hire a female CEO increases by a third.

Gender equality in leadership by industry

Of the Russell 3000’s nine sectors, utility companies have the best record for female leadership, with women representing a little over 11 percent of CEOs and averaging 22 percent female board representation.

While these numbers are promising, utilities comprise the smallest sector in the index by far, with only 99 companies, “so it’s difficult to draw meaningful conclusions,” Guerard of FactSet noted. However, the 420 companies representing the index’s third largest sector—consumer discretionary goods—are also boosting female representation in leadership. In this sector, 8.8 percent of CEO positions and 21.4 percent of board positions are now held by women.

The technology sector is among the worst performing when it comes to leading on gender diversity—which is no surprise given its prior track record. Although annual returns at highly gender-diverse tech companies are 5.4 percent higher on average, according to a 2017 report from Morgan Stanley, men still comprise over 75 percent of the tech workforce. Of the 339 technology companies listed in the Russell 3000, only eight have female CEOs—amounting to a measly 2.4 percent. “This sector also ranks near the bottom when it comes to female representation on boards of directors, with an average representation of 16.1 percent,” Guerard wrote.

Still, all is not lost for technology companies: Of all Russell 3000 firms, technology company Travelzoo has the highest female representation on its board, with 80 percent of board seats being occupied by women.

Gender equality is good for business, research shows

This latest report from FactSet comes after large asset managers like State Street Global Advisors, BlackRock and Vanguard called for improved gender diversity on corporate boards.

“Gender diversity is one element of board composition that we will continue to focus on over the coming years,” Vanguard CEO William McNabb wrote in an open letter addressed to the directors of all public companies, as reported by MarketWatch. “We expect boards to focus on it as well, and their demonstration of meaningful progress over time will inform our engagement and voting going forward.”

Though women’s leadership is an increasingly hot topic, such strong words from fund managers like Vanguard aren’t just trend watching or altruism—they reflect definitive data that shows gender diversity is good both for corporate governance and for business.

Publicly-traded companies with gender diverse boards—defined as women occupying at least 40 percent of board seats—see an average 12 percent higher return on equity compared to the Russell 3000 overall, according to another FactSet analysis released in March. These companies also demonstrate greater return on invested capital and lower price volatility than their peers, especially those with exclusively male boards, FactSet found.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research came to a similar conclusion in a report released earlier this year. “We found that gender diversity amongst executives, board members and managers consistently suggested higher returns on equity . . . lowered price volatility and lower earnings risk,” Savita Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy for BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, said in a statement.

Findings like these appear to be top of mind for fund managers. "Irrespective of a company’s industry, location or size, we believe that a lack of diversity on the board undermines its ability to make effective strategic decisions," Michelle Edkins, global head of investment stewardship for BlackRock, wrote in a letter to the Russell 1000 last year, as reported by Bloomberg.

Parity is still a long way off

Though data clearly shows the benefits, it will be a while before corporate America reaches gender parity in the boardroom, experts say. Recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles predicts that we won’t see an even split in board appointments for men and women until 2025—“and that’s just for new directors,” wrote Quartz editor Heather Landy.

Note from the editor: In this week's Brands Taking Stands newsletter, we explore the potential impact from California's law mandating that women on serve on the boards of companies that are headquartered within the state. 

Image credit: Dane Deaner via Unsplash

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You’ve Set Your Sustainability Goals. Now What?

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I’ve never run a marathon, but I imagine it would be a very praise-worthy experience.

First, you sign up, feeling that initial rush of “wow, I’m actually doing this” adrenaline. That's followed by everyone's favorite part: telling people. You’re instantly flooded with responses like “Good for you!” and “You’re such an inspiration!”. But then, the glory starts to fade and you realize it’s time for the hard work. Months of training, time and dedication (and probably pain) are needed before you can cross the finish line.

We’re seeing a similar process happening in corporate sustainability around setting climate goals. It’s inspiring work to see companies set targets. Take for example evian, which announced its ambition to be Carbon Neutral globally by 2020 during the Paris Climate Summit in 2015.

But getting kudos for setting a goal is just the beginning. The rest of the story, often the most important and tricky step is figuring out those middle miles – determining how exactly these goals can be met. As consumers, it’s the hard work being done to deliver on a goal that we should be celebrating even more.

This summer, I got a glimpse into what those middle miles look like – what it takes to get from goal setting to goal hitting.

One year later: where is evian® on its journey?

A lot goes into the manufacturing of a bottle of water and getting it to consumers. There’s the design, production, transport, and end use. And with that, there are greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That’s why evian is focusing on reducing the carbon footprint of the product’s lifecycle at every step of the way, including 100% renewable energy at its manufacturing facility and incorporating more recycled content into bottle design.

One big area of opportunity to make GHG reductions in evian’s supply chain is related to downstream logistics in the U.S – activities such as warehouse storage, or transportation from U.S. ports to other warehouses and distribution centers.

This summer, the company partnered with EDF Climate Corps, enlisting the help of Andrea Gomez Vesga. Andrea was challenged by the head of Danone Waters America Supply Chain with designing a GHG reduction plan, focusing on these downstream activities.

Andrea worked hand in hand with the Supply Chain team to compile data on the carbon footprint of each of the company’s lane and carriers. Per the team’s request, Andrea created a custom, user-friendly carbon calculator to make it simple for the transportation team to incorporate carbon into decision making. “evian has bold ambitions and now we can move from ambition to action here in the United States. By analyzing our existing data through a sustainability lens provided us with information that can help us take the actions necessary to reduce our emissions”, stated Aurelie Fonzes, Logistics Manager with Danone Waters.

To reduce transportation-related emissions, evian is converting to intermodal freight transport – the use of two modes of freight, such as truck and rail, to transport products – when possible. Supporting this strategy, Andrea analyzed the environmental performance of each carrier and ranked them accordingly. She determined that evian could make significant cuts in its footprint and recommended opening a strategically located new warehouse that would replace trucks with trains.

The supply chain team has already started the conversations with partners and the next steps is defining metrics, targets and goals that plan to be incorporated into the Supply Chain’s sustainability roadmap. And even better, the potential for scale is huge: This pioneering program in Danone Waters of America is being shared for learnings throughout the company’s other business units.

How we can learn from evian®

There’s a lot that can be learned from evian’s progress for those who are facing similar challenges in hitting their goals:

  1. If you set a goal, you need a plan to meet it. Although it takes a lot of work to set a goal, a goal is only impactful if it’s met. evian’s progress shows the impact of taking a systems approach to meeting a goal and the need for iterative roadmaps.

  2. You don’t have to do it alone. Partnerships can be a great, cost-effective option to meeting your goals. Andrea gave evian a dedicated pair of hands and fresh set of eyes needed to accelerate progress.

  3. One mile at a time. Meeting a goal can be overwhelming, but evian’s supply chain team shows how you can methodically address one piece at a time and build momentum.

  4. Meeting goals can provide new perspectives. By assessing various business units, you often uncover smarter business decisions that can save money, time and carbon emissions.

Here’s what making progress on sustainability goals looks like for evian. How about you?

Connect with Daniel Hill on LinkedIn

Previously published on EDF+Business and 3BL Media news

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Bank of America Pledges to Help Make EVs the ‘New Normal’ by 2030

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Bank of America has become the latest Fortune 500 company to join the EV100, a global initiative led by the Climate Group that seeks to make electric transportation “the new normal” by 2030.

The EV100 calls on companies to leverage their investment, as well as their influence on millions of staff and customers worldwide, to address rising global transport emissions. Two dozen members—including Unilever, Ikea and Clif Bar—have already pledged to purchase more electric vehicles for their fleets, install EV charging points for employees and customers, and invest in sustainable transport solutions.

As part of its membership, Bank of America committed to install additional EV charging infrastructure at its owned properties. The company has already installed around 100 workplace charging points for employees in the U.S. and U.K., with more planned in 2019. Additionally, nearly 10,000 employees have participated in its low-carbon vehicle reimbursement program—which the company established a decade ago to incentivize purchase of electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The financial giant was also an early member of the RE100, another effort from the Climate Group and CDP that calls on companies to source 100 percent renewable energy. Such measures not only prevent climate-warming emissions, but also offer a business benefit: A 2018 progress report, which draws on data from 3,500 companies, revealed that RE100 members earn up to 7.7 percent more profits than non-members.

“Being energy-smart and being business-smart goes hand in hand and this has to be norm, sooner rather than later,” Helen Clarkson, CEO of the Climate Group, said in a statement. “We congratulate those going further and faster on climate action and we urge others to do the same—a win-win for emissions and the bottom line.”

Bank of America’s goal to purchase 100 percent renewable energy and be completely carbon neutral by 2020 is ambitious, even by RE100 standards. The company purchased 1.7 million megawatt-hours of renewable electricity in 2017, which amounts to 83 percent of its global energy use, putting it on track for its 2020 goal. It also cut its direct emissions and those from the purchase of electricity by 86 percent since 2010, while growing the business by 4 percent in the last fiscal year.

“In addition to taking measurable action to reduce our environmental impacts, we are also deploying significant financial and intellectual capital to develop solutions to climate change and other environmental challenges,” Alex Liftman, global environmental executive for Bank of America, said in a statement.

The company has invested more than $96 billion “in financing for low-carbon and sustainable business activities” since 2007, Liftman said. That includes nearly $30 billion in financing for renewables, transportation and water infrastructure projects deployed from 2013 to 2017 in the U.S. In September, the company commissioned a report to examine the impacts of that investment—which is part of a $125 billion environmental business commitment leading up to 2025.

The analysis, conducted by consulting firm EY, revealed that Bank of America’s investment contributed a cumulative $35.6 billion to America’s GDP, while helping to prevent more than 1.8 million metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions in 2017 alone.

“We are engaging every part of our company to address today’s biggest global challenges—including solutions to help transition to lower-carbon energy sources and address unsustainable demands on our natural resources,” Bank of America Vice Chairman Anne Finucane said in a statement.

In May, the company also announced the issuance of its fourth and largest green bond for $2.25 billion, the proceeds of which will support increasing renewable energy generation.

Image credit: Flickr/Ryan Ozawa

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The Allstate Foundation Encourages Youth Empowerment with Good Starts Young Program

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Mary-Pat Hector was 13 years old when she decided she had to do something to stop the gun violence that was riddling her Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood.

“She was determined to generate awareness for the issue and caught the attention of supporters who enabled her to develop a billboard campaign in Atlanta to help spread the word about the violence epidemic,” said Laura Freveletti, senior program officer of The Allstate Foundation’s Good Starts Young program.

“I wanted to create billboards so people could see themselves, see it happening to them,” Hector said, who was able to erect 50 billboards across the city of Atlanta to not only shine a spotlight on the problem of gun violence, but encourage people to look at the issue with fresh eyes.

Now a sophomore in college, Hector has created a nonprofit to publicize the issue further. She also ran for local office, becoming one of the youngest candidates to run in Atlanta’s history. Although she didn’t win the election, Freveletti said, Hector hasn’t slowed down one bit.

“She continues her pursuit of raising awareness and encouraging others to speak out about violence and violence-reduction methods,” Freveletti said.

To help with her goal, The Allstate Foundation awarded Hector’s nonprofit $10,000 to continue her work – both in Atlanta and in other cities plagued by violence in the U.S.

“Her accomplishment as a teenager is a prime example of what can happen when youth are empowered to lead, are given tools and resources, and use their influence to make a positive difference in their communities,” said Freveletti. The goal of The Allstate Foundation’s Good Starts Young program is to inspire the next generation of leaders and develop their social and emotional learning skills, which are things like resilience and grit, self-awareness and self-management, and teamwork and conflict resolution.

Research shows that for a young person to succeed in life, social and emotional learning skills are as – if not even more important – than academic achievement. With these skills, youth are empowered to succeed and become our future leaders.

Freveletti says one of the reasons for the program’s ongoing success is its ability to network with organizations with similar goals. Organizations like WE Charity, which helps to empower youth through rallies, educational forums, and volunteerism have been instrumental in equipping kids with the learning tools that researchers have found are critical to their success.

“We underwrite rallies and educational forums to provide inspiration and instruction with a dose of fun for young people,” said Freveletti. The Allstate Foundation has found that storytelling can be a powerful vehicle for lifting spirits and building courage.

“We tell stories about youth who are challenging inequity and solving issues in their schools and communities across the country; stories about students who have stepped up to take part in rebuilding their community, and are addressing bullying, homelessness, and food scarcity. We try to amplify these stories to show the good work youth are doing in the world and inspire other young people to do that work as well,” said Freveletti.

In doing so, The Allstate Foundation and its partners are building a platform for service-learning and social and emotional learning skills. Programs like WE Volunteer Now teach kids the value of being part of, and making a positive impact on, their community while equipping them with skills to be successful in life.

The Allstate Foundation also partners with the Collaborative Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL), which is a resource for school districts, principals and administrators throughout the country to ensure that social and emotional learning is factored into curriculum guidelines, classroom activities and school culture.

“Research and best practice shows that the combination of volunteer service and development of social and emotional learning skills enhances the likelihood for youth to succeed in the future,” Freveletti said.

For high school graduation and entrance to college, many students need real volunteering experience. Volunteering allows young people to meet new people, experience new cultures, find new friends, make connections and build references, which is so important. We know that volunteering lets them gain new skills and build confidence. It allows them to stretch their current perspectives in new environments.”

Later this fall, The Allstate Foundation embarks on another phase of its work, said Freveletti, with a national campaign to highlight the importance of social and emotional learning for youth. They will be launching the campaign at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “Our goal is to get families talking about the importance of these skills in helping youth realize their goals in life.”

Dovetailing with that effort will be CASEL’s first international conference on social and emotional learning in 2019, which The Allstate Foundation is helping to launch. “We are really excited about being the engine that allows this valuable information sharing and collaboration to take place and to get families and schools to start taking action to ensure youth build these life-enhancing skills,” said Freveletti.

“We set a goal to engage 25 percent of young people (ages 10-18) in The Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young-supported programs that develop social and emotional learning skills in the U.S.in the next few years,” she said. “We’d like to see schools and communities across the U.S. increase access to social and emotional learning resources before, during and after school.”

The Allstate Foundation hopes to meet that goal by 2021, eight short years since it launched the initiative.

Image of Mary-Pat Hector courtesy of The Allstate Foundation.

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