Facebook on the Hot Seat Again: Where Will Advertisers Draw the Line?

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Last year, a major data privacy scandal gave rise to an “advertiser revolt” against Facebook. The outrage soon faded, but as Facebook encounters yet another wave of bad press, brands may once again begin to question their relationship with the ubiquitous social media platform.

Brands in revolt, temporarily

The roots of the data privacy issue are deep, but the immediate cause of the 2018 advertiser backlash was fairly straightforward.

In March 2018, reports surfaced that information on 50 million Facebook users was accessed without their knowledge during the 2016 election cycle. Behind the data harvesting was Cambridge Analytica, a firm involved with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

As the news broke, Unilever was among a number of leading companies to bring up the issue of consumer trust. CEO Keith Weed warned that trusted brands could not afford to be associated with social media platforms that fail to safeguard users’ privacy.

Facebook took steps to smooth the waters. In June 2018 it joined in the launch of the newly formed Global Alliance for Responsible Media, a collaborative effort between brands, ad agencies, and media platforms to address brand protection in the context of  “harmful and misleading media environments.”

When boycotts work

Consumer boycotts are notoriously difficult to sustain, but they do have a chance of success when they involve a leading brand that already shows signs of decline. That appears to be the case with Facebook.

Facebook’s efforts at peacemaking may have reassured its advertisers, but users were not so easily pacified.

Last spring, The Verge reported that Facebook lost 15 million users in the past two years.

In addition, last Friday CBS News reported that Facebook has lost its slot in Interbrand’s list of Top 10 Best Brands, falling from #8 in 2017 to #14 this year.

Aside from the continuing challenge of attracting younger generations, CBS attributed Facebook's problems to the company’s record-setting $5 billing fine with the Federal Trade Commission over Cambridge Analytica’s access to user data.

In addition, Facebook’s ongoing attempts to build support among right-leaning politicians and pundits has motivated an organized backlash from the left.

Business-to-business boycotts can be somewhat more successful. That may also be in play, as controversy builds over Facebook’s attempt to launch the digital currency Libra.

The Libra project initially received substantial backing from the financial community, but leading supporter PayPal jumped ship after consumer watchdogs and members of Congress raised concerns. As of last week, several others — including the five founding members Visa, Mastercard, eBay, Stride and Mercado Pago — also dropped out.

Facebook cleans house…

Over and above these issues, Facebook has also had to deal with an ongoing problem that is built into its DNA: the deliberate use of social media to amplify and spread lies, half-truths, conspiracy theories and political propaganda, especially regarding the efforts of Russia and other countries to interfere in U.S. elections.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate released a major report on the issue and concluded that Russia used Facebook and other digital media to interfere with the 2016 election, an effort that is still ongoing.

As if on cue, last week Facebook announced that it had spotted and removed pages, groups, and accounts linked to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” attributed to Russia and Iran.

We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Facebook stated.

…but can’t sweep the fake news under the rug

Facebook left an important loophole in its announcement, though. The company emphasized that it is taking down the fake accounts “based on their behavior, not the content they posted.”

The “not the content” loophole, however, goes right to the heart of the matter.

In a high-profile speech at Georgetown University last week, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reasserted the platform’s core responsibility to protect its users’ freedom of expression (here cited by The Hill):

“Whether you like Facebook or not, I think we need to recognize what is at stake and come together to stand for voice and free expression at this critical moment.”

That’s all well and good, but the U.S. Constitution protects against repression by the government. Private companies are under no constitutional obligation to maintain a hands-off position.

Where advertisers might draw the line

Be that as it may, the “not the content” loophole also extends to advertisers, as Zuckerberg emphasized in his Georgetown speech.

That position is going to be tough for Facebook to defend moving forward. Federal law requires broadcast networks to run political campaign advertisements regardless of content, but other platforms — including social media as well as cable television — are under no such obligation.

The federal no-censorship law also does not cover “issue advertisements” that are paid for by supporters outside of the candidate’s official campaign.

Facebook does have the option to exercise discretion over political advertising. It also has a framework for doing so. Like virtually all other media organizations, the company places a long list of specific restrictions on advertising content. The list includes content that is “disrespectful” as well as content that is false.

While Facebook may be getting its “fake news” problem under control, the company’s persistent defense of falsities in political advertising has already taken center stage in the runup to the 2020 election year.

The leak of audio from a recent Facebook employee internal town hall meeting also reinforces the perception that Facebook has picked sides in the 2020 election.

So far, companies that advertise on Facebook seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. If the environment becomes too “harmful and misleading” during the 2020 election cycle, though, leading brands may decide to sit this one out.

Image credit: John Schnobrich/Unsplash

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Syngenta Announces Plans to Help Farmers Tackle Climate Change

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Syngenta, one of the world’s largest agriculture companies, announced at the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit in New York that it will spend $2 billion during the next five years to help farmers prepare for and tackle the increasing threats posed by climate change.

For Syngenta, climate action applies to its operations, too

The Switzerland-based company also announced it will work to reduce the carbon intensity of its operations by at least 50 percent by 2030 to support the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Citing recent floods in the United States, the drought in Australia, and the record-breaking summer temperatures in Europe, Erik Fyrwald, Syngenta's CEO, said during the Summit that climate change is putting enormous pressure on farmers worldwide.

“We know we have to help farmers,” Fyrwald said. “We need to identify what works. We also know we have to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that come from agriculture to make agriculture part of the solution. This is not about altruism; this is about saving our planet.”

In yesterday’s announcement, the company said funding will go toward programs with clearly differentiated benefits or breakthrough technologies that “will enable a step change in agricultural sustainability.” Investments will be prioritized in areas such as integrated pest management, continuous living cover systems, multifunctional field margins, water-use efficiency and effectiveness, and integrated crop-livestock systems.

The company plans to report progress against its targets annually. 

The investment supports Syngenta’s previously announced sustainability goal of delivering at least two technological breakthroughs to market each year to reduce agriculture’s contribution to climate change, harness its mitigation capacity, and help the food system stay within planetary boundaries.

Nature Conservancy continues its Syngenta partnership 

During yesterday’s announcement, Syngenta said it will expand its decade-long collaboration with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) . The non-governmental organization will help Syngenta develop strategies and identify and test new innovations and technology funded under the new investment.

The partners announced several projects already in development including a project in the Chaco region of Argentina that will focus on maintaining biodiversity and resilient ecosystem, and a project in China to support the health and productivity of soil in arid potato-growing regions. Other projects will be conducted in Kenya, Brazil and the United States.

TNC will also provide independent validation of the Syngenta-funded projects, measuring CO2 reduction, water usage and land productivity measures.

“Achieving conservation at scale will require bold action from the private sector,” said Sally Jewell, CEO at TNC and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior under the Obama administration. “As businesses increasingly recognize the risks of climate change and the benefits of sustainability, we welcome the opportunity to contribute our science and expertise to help transform business practices.”

For Fyrwald, success is clear: “I won’t be satisfied with progress [against climate change] until we see CO2 levels drop significantly. Today, we are not there yet.”

Image credit: Christ De Wit/Unsplash

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CECP Wants All Public Companies To Think Long-Term

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Economist Milton Friedman famously said the sole social responsibility of business is to maximize profits and shareholder returns. But this short-term, shareholder primacy perspective faces increasing public criticism—whether from influential executives like BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff or coalitions like the Business Roundtable. Still, companies feel pressure from Wall Street to focus on short-term profits above all else.  

Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) is out to change that with a call-to-action for all public companies to commit to long-term business strategies by 2025 and engage more often with long-term oriented investors. “Our goal is to spark the movement of trillions of dollars in capital to companies that create value over the long term,” Nandika Madgavkar, senior director of CECP’s Strategic Investor Initiative, told TriplePundit. 

The push for long-term thinking

The new pledge builds on years of work at the Strategic Investor Initiative, which includes engaging with companies and investors and compiling research about the benefits of long-term business planning. 

“The power of the Strategic Investor Initiative is that is leveraging CECP’s longstanding network of CEOs and corporate responsibility departments to keep our fingers on the pulse,” Madgavkar said. “We understand what each of these groups is focused on and how trends shift.”

CECP created a proprietary template to guide companies through the process of creating what it calls Long-Term Plan presentations, which account for growth, strategy and risk, now and into the future. 

“Most companies are already working on long-term business strategies,” Madgavkar said. “Creating a Long-Term Plan presentation is more about telling a cohesive story of what a company is doing across business units than it is about creating a new strategy.”

More than 30 CEOs of the world’s most prominent companies—representing 1 percent of U.S. listed companies and 6 percent of U.S. market capitalization—have presented their Long-Term Plans to investors at CECP’s CEO Investor Forums. “By lifting up these companies as examples, it demonstrates for those who are not yet convinced that there’s a movement happening,” Madgavkar said. 

Further, CECP research indicates that Wall Street’s fixation on the short term may be fading: The public delivery of Long-Term Plans is associated with 1.83 percent higher market returns and 7.6 higher share turnover, according to a study the group published last year (PDF). 

CECP is also looking to scale its platform so that more corporate leaders and investors have opportunities to communicate and assess companies’ Long-Term Plans. “By scaling, we’ll create a groundswell of demand for this information so that it becomes much more commonplace than it already is,” Madgavkar said. 

Paul Polman wants to disrupt short-termism

(Image: Former Unilever CEO Paul Polman spoke out against short-termism at a recent CECP Investor Forum, noting Unilever's preference for long-term value investors and saying, “A business cannot be a bystander in a system that gives it life in the first place." )

Breaking down silos to disrupt short-termism

For years, the perception among many corporate investor relations (IR) departments was that investors don't want to hear about sustainability. However, as we continue to see, investors do care about what companies are doing to ensure the long-term sustainability of their operations—and they're asking for more of this information, not less. 

Case in point: More than 80 percent of mainstream investors now rely on sustainability or ESG (environmental, social and governance) disclosures to make decisions, according to a recent survey published in the Financial Analysts Journal. 

Much of CECP’s work with companies focuses on breaking down silos between corporate departments such as IR, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the C-suite, to make sure all have ownership over long-term strategies that account for impacts beyond profit. 

“IR departments have changed their perspective on CSR,” Madgavkar explained. “As opposed to the way it was, say, 20 years ago, where CSR was seen as a ‘nice-to-have,’ but rather it is now an imperative for business to create value over the long-term for significant stakeholders, not just short-term returns for traders.”

Still, many IR departments are slow to catch up, but the process of creating compelling, publicly-facing stories about the future can begin to change the tide. 

“While many forward-looking IR leaders recognize the value in telling their long-term story, there’s still more work to be done,” Madgavkar told us. “Companies have told us that one of the benefits in giving a Long-Term Plan presentation is that the preparation work breaks down these silos inside a company and shows how it all fits together—which may lead to improvements in the strategy. And leaders from across business units see how they can better work together to achieve common goals.”

The bottom line 

The new pledge represents the culmination of CECP’s work in engaging companies and investors around long-term planning. Companies can fulfill their commitments to the pledge by engaging with CECP’s Strategic Investor Initiative, dedicating time on their earnings calls to talk about long-term strategy, or sharing a Long-Term Plan in their annual reports.

“Our coalition at the Strategic Investor Initiative believes this is what’s needed to bring long-termism to the next level,” Madgavkar concluded. “To truly make an impact, we need this to be the new normal for companies.”

Don’t forget: Later this month, we’ll be hosting 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What's Next, October 29-30, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C. Nandika Madgavkar of CECP will join an onstage discussion exploring how ESG must integrate all departments of a company, including investor relations, human resources and communications.

We're pleased to offer 3p readers a 25 percent discount on attending the Forum. Please register by going to the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.

Image credits: Flickr/Sam Valadi, Flickr/CECP Photo and Pexels/Jonas Ferlin

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Stanley Black & Decker Invests in the Future of Manufacturing with Maker Month

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This October marks the second year of Stanley Black & Decker’s Maker Month, 31 days of various programs that invite students to explore creativity, design and connection. This year’s activities include an innovation challenge for grades 9-12 student teams, trade and vocational scholarships, and networking events for students to learn more about careers in manufacturing.

The Fortune 500 giant specializing in tools, household hardware and security products hopes these initiatives will engage 45,000 people in 2019 alone. By 2030, the company hopes to inspire 10 million “makers.” Why 10 million? That’s the number of manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled worldwide because of a lack of qualified workers.

“There is a skills gap that needs to be filled,” Abigail Dreher, director of public affairs at Stanley Black & Decker, told TriplePundit in an interview. “We want our employees to thrive, and we want the next generation to be able to excel as it comes into this field.”

Developing long-term relationships with makers

Plenty of companies donate money to schools and send representatives to career fairs - but the actions Stanley Black & Decker has been taking go far beyond such gestures. 

The company reaches students in different age groups in distinct ways. For elementary and middle school students, it’s exposing them to the possibilities of manufacturing and technical careers. For high school and college-age students, the company connects via internships and apprenticeships. Finally, at the career-ready level, Stanley Black & Decker works to make sure employees have the necessary skills to adapt to new technology and programs.

One indication of the longer-term impact Stanley Black & Decker hopes to make can be found in the award for this year’s “Making for Good” challenge—part of the company’s Innovation Generation initiative, a collaboration with the curriculum developer Discovery Education.

Teams of two to four grades 9-12 students have until January 30, 2020 to submit proposals for product designs that achieve environmental or social good. The top three teams will receive cash prizes. Along with $15,000, the winning team will be offered a virtual mentorship with Stanley Black & Decker.

For students entering the next chapter of their learning, Stanley Black & Decker is also granting secondary or post-secondary scholarships. This year, it will award five students with $10,000. Individuals can submit applications from October 21 to November 15. 

On a more casual and grassroots level were this October’s learning days. Across the globe, Stanley Black & Decker opened its facilities to tours and activities, conducted panel discussions, and even partnered with schools and organizations to lead Maker Month activities.

But Maker Month is bigger than October. Stanley Black & Decker says it is determined to continue the relationships it forges with students and schools through the years. In its first annual Maker Month in 2018, the company made a commitment to create maker spaces for two schools. The company is still working with those schools to build out those spaces to their needs and liking with the best tools and resources available, Dreher says.

The business case for investing in your workforce

When asked what business benefits the hardware company has seen from empowering makers, Dreher points to the company’s own workforce. Having a common rallying cry, she says, is powerful for not only empowering employees, but also attracting the best talent.

Developing a unified workforce is not as simple as it may sound. According to a 2017 Gallup report, only 33 percent of U.S. employees feel engaged at work. And a study led by The New York Times and the Harvard Business Review revealed that employees are more satisfied and productive when they feel their work has a higher purpose. That result carries across both white- and blue-collar industries and job functions.

For Stanley Black & Decker, its unifying purpose is “for those who make the world.” Dreher says employees are aware that “it’s not just about us—not about us creating the tools. It’s the next person who’s going to use that tool and that innovation, and what are they going to do with it? How can they change the world?”

The company’s values impel it not only to inspire its workforce, but also to educate. As part of its wholistic investments in manufacturing, Stanley Black & Decker makes sure its employees are taken care of.

“We want to make sure our employees who have been working here for 10, 20, 50 years can manage new technology, that they’re not displaced by the different programs that are coming in,” Dreher says. The company teaches workers through strategic employee pairings and also by partnering with local schools and community colleges to train employees on new technologies.

Closing the manufacturing skills gap

Deloitte’s most recent study on the manufacturing skills gap estimates a potential economic impact of $2.5 trillion due to unfilled manufacturing jobs in the next decade. The report identifies three factors influencing this shortage: the introduction of advanced technologies and automation, misperceptions about manufacturing jobs, and retiring baby boomers.

While boomers continue to retire, Stanley Black & Decker is training the next generation of innovators and makers. The company announced this month that it will partner with Autism Speaks to establish a community college program called NxtGen that trains those with autism for skilled-labor jobs in manufacturing.
 

Bigger than Stanley Black & Decker

In the end, Stanley Black & Decker’s higher aim is for Maker Month to become larger than the company itself, a grassroots movement where students, parents, teachers and schools rally behind what it means to be a maker, Dreher says.

The company’s corporate responsibility activities during Maker Month and beyond not only provide an example to others in the manufacturing sector for how they can make a difference in their own industry, but it also shows how purpose-driven leadership in any industry can empower a workforce for good.

Image credit: Stanley Black & Decker

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This CEO’s Sustainable Business Crusade Elevates Call for a New Capitalism

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Sustainable business and social consciousness are becoming central to mainstream corporate discourse, and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been a part of that conversation for years.

Benioff’s voice has turned into a fever pitch leading up to the release of his new book, Trailblazer, this past Tuesday. His traversal of the media circuit has led to some interesting discussions on the state of corporate America, such as his recent interview on Mad Money and op/ed in The New York Times. Offering a stark juxtaposition to traditional ideas of running a business, Benioff ventures to a conclusion that not many in his position are willing to reach: “Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.”

A rethink of capitalism

The New York Times piece portrays a man who understands that the system he is critiquing gave him his influence and wealth. But Benioff also recognizes that times are calling for a new iteration of capitalism, one that values stakeholders over shareholders, or at the very least values them equally. He joins other billionaires who are in favor of increasing taxes on America’s wealthiest citizens, with names such as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Tom Steyer and Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio.

The calls for a more equitable version of capitalism have permeated the highest levels of American discourse, signified by Benioff in the business world and by individuals like Andrew Yang in politics.

Piggybacking on the Business Roundtable

In August, the Business Roundtable released a similar statement to Benioff’s echoing a firm commitment to a stakeholder-driven approach across the business world. The organization previously prioritized shareholder primacy—the idea that a company’s primary responsibility is to maximize shareholder profit—in its annual statements dating back to 1997. After 21 years, 181 CEOs came together to release a revised vision, one that calls for stakeholders, such as employees, customers and communities, to be valued in the calculus of decision-making. Signatories included Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

In that statement, the Roundtable calls on companies invest in employees, which has proven to be a worthy use of capital; support the communities in which they work, which has been a hot topic in recent years with the Amazon headquarters debate; and also to deal with suppliers ethically. All of this in addition to traditional concerns centered around providing value to customers and shareholders.

A clarion call for sustainable business

Marc Benioff and other high-level executives are leading the charge to reorient capitalism, and those calls for more responsible and sustainable business will only continue. Recognizing that organizations are part of a broader ecosystem is necessary for that organization to not only thrive, but to survive. At any scale of business, whether it be a small store or a billion-dollar enterprise, expectations are evolving. Just ask Facebook, which Benioff has publicly called to be broken up. Scale doesn’t shield any organization from these changing expectations.

In the past, executives had no incentive to change, and the income inequality that has proven to be a foundational problem of our time emerged. Now, incentives have changed, and with them the outlook of organizations.

Investments in communities and in employees are no longer sunk cost. They are vital investments in maintaining the world in which companies exist. Not only that, but turning an organization toward a more equitable orientation can be the greatest problem-solver we have. That’s reason enough for any organization to assess its societal impact.

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Beyond Halloween: Make A Difference During Bat Week

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Local environmental projects have long been a common ingredient in many corporate responsibility recipes. The challenge is to keep the effort fresh and interesting, helping to grow participation among employees, customers and the public at large. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how businesses can leverage Bat Week to bring renewed attention to local conservation efforts.

Wait, what is Bat Week?

Bat Week is an annual, international effort aimed at raising public awareness of the role of bats in the natural environment.

This year, Bat Week coincides with the run-up to Halloween night in the United States, from this Thursday, October 24, through October 31, a time of year when bats and other nocturnal creatures take center stage in the public imagination.

Halloween is also a time when consumers head for the stores. According to the latest survey from the American Retail Federation, shoppers in the U.S. plan to spend a total of $8.8 billion on Halloween items, for an average of more than $86 per person. Even more interesting, the same survey showed that 29 million people plan to dress their pets for Halloween.

In other words, Bat Week provides businesses with an opportunity to spread the bat conservation message to millions of shoppers, including those who already consider animals part of the family.

Bats and the triple bottom line

Although the connection with Halloween conjures up scary images in U.S. popular culture, the reality is that bats perform critical roles in local ecosystems.

In particular, the U.S. Forest Service advises that bats are an effective alternative to chemical insecticides, insect repellants and electric “bug zappers.” Bats save the U.S. agriculture and forestry industries billions of dollars yearly in, addition to tamping down the population of biting insects around residential areas.

Among the statistics cited by the Forest Service:

  • A single little brown bat can catch more than 1,200 mosquitoes-sized insects in one hour.
  • A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 33 million or more rootworms each summer.
  • The 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats living in Bracken Cave, Texas, eat approximately 200 tons of insects nightly.

Bats are also important pollinators and dispersers of seeds, helping to ensure biodiversity in local habitats.

How to help, part 1

As with many other species, bat populations are increasingly threatened by the impact of human activities on the planet.

The problem for conservationists is that relatively few details are known about bat ecology.

One thing is certain, though. Bats have been losing access to their favored roosting places, including caves, abandoned mines, and tree cavities.

That is why the USDA and many bat conservationists recommend installing bat houses.

Bat houses are easy to build, and they are also available for purchase. Whether DIY or store-bought, a bat house should conform to recommended design guidelines.

According to the Forest Service, bat houses should be about 24 to 36 inches tall and just 4 to 5 inches deep. The interior can be separated into up to four roosting chambers of about 3/4” wide (the narrow spacing discourages wasps from taking up residence).

The placement of bat houses is also important. Bats prefer houses mounted on poles or on the sides of buildings, located at least 10 feet above ground. Ideally, they should be 15 to 20 feet above ground, and at least 20 to 25 feet from the nearest tree.

Research is also showing that bat houses should not be hung in areas where they are exposed to bright lights at night, but they do need to be situated where they can receive at least six hours of sunlight daily (or more, in northern states).

To top it off, bat houses should be located in or near a diverse habitat, and with 1/4 mile of water.

With all that said, are you ready for your company’s next community project?

How to help, part 2

With all of these factors to consider, it may be difficult or impossible for a business to entice bats into setting up housekeeping on their property.

However, there are still many other opportunities to help educate the public, for example by funding a bat education program at a local library.

Businesses can also explore opportunities to support federal bat conservation programs.

The U.S. Forest Service alone, for example, has jurisdiction over approximately 25,000 abandoned mines on its properties across the U.S. Under past practices, abandoned mines were completely sealed to prevent unauthorized access. The new, bat-friendly practice is to install iron grates over mine entrances, so bats can reach their prime roosting spots.

Businesses seeking more information volunteer on bat conservation opportunities can contact their State Department of Natural Resources, or contact Bat Conservation International or the Organization for Bat Conservation.

Going to bat for the future

Another way to help is to support research efforts aimed at preventing the deadly “white-nose syndrome” disease, which has wiped out bat populations across the U.S. and elsewhere.

To organize and focus R&D efforts on white-nose disease, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched the Bats for the Future initiative in 2016.

Bats for the Future is funded mainly by the Fish and Wildlife Service, with an assist from the U.S. Forest Service and two leading energy firms, Southern Company and Avangrid, the latter through the Avangrid Foundation.

Researchers have developed some promising treatments for white-nose disease in recent years, but there is a long way to go.

Businesses have ample opportunity to step up and help at this critical point in bat conservation, and the Halloween season provides a fun, engaging platform for spreading the word about bats.

Image credit: Marion Wellmann/Pixabay

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Corporate Leaders: It’s Time to Lead on Climate Policy

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By Mindy Lubber

At this vital moment in the global climate crisis, corporate leadership on climate policy is a top priority.

This week, I joined ten other executives of leading nonprofit organizations in an open letter calling on corporate CEOs to use their voice, their global platforms, their credibility, and their networks to support a policy agenda to get us to net-zero emissions by 2050. That is the goal that scientists say is necessary to limit global warming and avoid unprecedented damage to our planet, our economy and our communities.

Some companies are already taking action on climate change, others not so much. 87 global companies have recently committed to science-based targets within their global enterprises, and another 203 number have committed to 100% renewables by 2050 at the latest. And many more are setting ambitious goals and meeting them. 

That’s a good start. But, the one company by one company approach is not enough.

We simply can not get to a net-zero future without effective public policy at the state and federal levels—policies that will drive the market to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and scale up investments in resilient infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy and clean vehicle technologies. 

Corporate CEOs have every reason to lead on policy and be a credible, influential voice. They have the global communications platform to reach tens of millions of people; they have legitimate concerns about the economic impacts of climate change on their businesses and on our economy; and their consumers and employees increasingly favor companies that take action to help protect our planet. 

That credibility and capital has to be spent now. We have an extraordinary challenge and we need to make extraordinary progress.

Greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high and continue to rise, warming the planet at a rapid rate. Scientists warn that we have to work urgently to limit average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. It will mean cutting emissions nearly in half by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050.

That’s why we are calling on corporate CEOs to strongly and consistently advocate for science-based policies at every level of government. These include a price on carbon, maintaining vehicle fuel emissions standards, removing barriers to corporate renewable energy procurement, mandating corporate climate risk disclosures, fostering the electric vehicle (EV) market—and more, including innovative solutions we haven’t thought of yet.

Corporate leadership means setting climate goals, supporting climate policy, and aligning trade association’s policy positions with a net-zero economy. The days when companies could support climate action out of their public relations office and then support the trade associations working against climate policy must end.  

200 institutional investors agree. Last month, they urged nearly 50 of the largest publicly traded companies to align their climate lobbying with the goals of the Paris Agreement, warning that to do otherwise would pose financial risks to their portfolios.

The good news is that some companies already have left their trade associations, while countless others are effectively working with them from within to drive change. Unilever, to cite one strong example, asks its trade associations to properly represent their vision for climate action or risk losing the company as a member. We need to see similar action from more companies. 

Trust me when I say, when business leaders talk, lawmakers listen. 

We know this because Ceres has been mobilizing companies around a science-based policy agenda through the Ceres BICEP Network for 10 years. Just last spring, we brought more than 75 corporate leaders to Capitol Hill to call for a price on carbon, which we believe is the most effective and efficient policy to reduce emissions while strengthening the economy and growing the job market. 

Business leaders should recognize their tremendous capacity—if they don’t already—to effect positive change in the political debates on the climate crisis by consistently following a science-based approach in the policies they advocate for. 

As we saw at the end of September, Greta Thunberg and other young people led more than six million people in protests around the world. They are not asking for action on climate policy—they are demanding it. 

Do our corporate leaders dare ignore them? 

The stakes are too high to ignore them. It’s time for our corporate leaders to speak up and take action. Their leadership is crucial to powering a net-zero economy and a just and sustainable future for all. 

To the CEOs of corporate America: it’s now your turn to lead on climate policy.

Mindy Lubber is the CEO and President of Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.

Previously published in the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: Sophie Smith/Unsplash

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At this vital moment in the global climate crisis, corporate leadership on climate policy is a top priority, says Mindy Lubber of Ceres.
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Chipotle Joins Corporations Offering Debt-Free Degrees

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With U.S. unemployment rates at a historically low level, down to 3.5 percent as of September 2019, it behooves companies to find compelling ways to both attract and retain workers. On that note, the popular fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill is offering debt-free degrees to employees in an effort to attract and retain top talent. 

As mentioned in several news sources, Chipotle says it will pay for business and technology degrees at five universities—including the University of Arizona, Bellevue University and Wilmington University—for employees who have been at the company for at least 120 days and work a minimum of 15 hours per week. Employees can choose from 75 different degree programs within business and technology. The debt-free degrees round out Chipotle’s Cultivate Education program, which already included a tuition reimbursement program valued at up to $5,250 a year per employee.

“Chipotle recognizes that financial barriers can be one of the biggest obstacles that impede our employees from achieving their fullest potential,” Marissa Andrada, chief people officer at Chipotle, said in a public statement. “We are proud to launch this opportunity for debt-free degrees by providing free tuition to help employees excel in all areas in their lives, both in and out of Chipotle.”

The new offering is promising since total student loan debt in the U.S. topped $1 trillion in 2018, while over half of the young adults in the U.S. attending college took on debt last year.

Tuition assistance builds employee retention and loyalty  

The expanded tuition assistance program moves Chipotle closer to its goal of reducing employee turnover by adopting several tactics. By 2020, for example, the company seeks to reduce retail store management turnover to less than 25 percent year over year, according to its 2018 sustainability report

Other retail and food companies have found success with launching more generous higher education tuition assistance programs.

Starbucks’ tuition assistance program, which started in 2014, is a great example of how Chipotle’s new offerings can attract and retain employees: Starbucks retail employees who use the program stay with the company 50 percent longer and are promoted at three times the rate of those who do not participate. 

But educational support is not just about keeping employees—companies can also benefit from having an improved brand reputation within the marketplace.

“Providing educational benefits to employees is a great retention and development tool, but it is also a brand story,” Jason Smith, compensation manager at Denny’s and president of the Chain Restaurant Total Rewards Association, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “When companies help employees accomplish their education goals, they are telling their customer they care, and they believe in second chances.”

Comparing Chipotle’s degree programs to those at other corporations  

While Chipotle’s new offering is promising, it is not unique. Other corporations across many industries have also developed benefits to prepare their employees for the workplace of tomorrow.

And such programs can make a difference in a rapidly changing workplace. It is estimated that 64 million frontline and low-income workers need to evolve their skills to keep up with the automation arriving in the service industries, as reported by Alexandra Wilson of Forbes.

“It’s become pretty trendy for these big corporations to offer higher education benefits, tuition benefits, degree programs, things along those lines to help students,” Kevin Kinser, a professor at Penn State University and head of the school’s Department of Education Policy Studies, recently told Marketwatch. “It clearly represents the anxiety around attending college, particularly for lower-income individuals that many of these companies seem to be targeting for employment.”

Guild Education, the platform that services Chipotle's debt-free tuition program, also maintains Taco Bell’s Start With Us and Stay with Us program, Walmart’s Live Better U program, and Disney's DisneyAspire, but each program widely differs.

Taco Bell’s benefits include $5,250 per year toward an employee’s education and a scholarship that for "innovators" looking to earn a bachelor-level degree.

Walmart’s most recent addition to its program offers high-school students free ACT and SAT prep as well as college credit through an online program for the cost of $1 a day, which is usually reimbursed once the student graduates.

DisneyAspire, Disney’s $50 million education program, not only includes 100 percent free tuition, but also reimburses employees for required books and fees—an offering not provided at many employers, including Chipotle.

“There are so many new jobs that are either coming or that are here already. So, it is shifting from an employer standpoint: How [can you] differentiate yourself?” Chris Trout, VP of learning and development at the Walt Disney Co., said at a recent event, as reported by Yahoo Finance. “From an employee standpoint . . . it’s not just about ‘I need a job and where can I find the highest paying job,’ it’s ‘Where can I find a job in a place that I feel like I can thrive?

Image credit: Chipotle

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Is Energy Storage Finally Ready To Tackle the Wind Sector's Biggest Challenge?

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Now that wind energy has gone mainstream, the big challenge is how to squeeze the most kilowatts out of a wind turbine. The task is more complicated than simply increasing the size and efficiency of the turbine. People—and businesses—need electricity when they need it, but the wind blows when it will. The result can be an undersupply of wind energy during peak demand periods and an oversupply at other times, especially at night.

Until recent years, batteries and other energy storage systems were too expensive to help bridge the mismatch between supply and demand. However, more economical technology is coming online, and it's having a powerful impact on both the wind and solar energy markets.

Meeting the wind energy challenge

Idaho-based KORE Power is one company tapping into the potential for scaling up the global wind industry through energy storage.

Lindsay Gorrill, CEO and director of KORE Power, explains that energy storage can help spur investor interest in wind farms, because it can significantly reduce the amount of time that wind turbines are idled or operating at a lower capacity due to oversupply.

“When you drive by a wind turbine and you see only one (or none) running, it means they are not utilizing the wind. Storage enables you to utilize that large capital you’ve spent,” Gorrill explains.

To be clear, energy storage is just one cog in the many gears of grid management, so there are other considerations in play. Nevertheless, the basic idea is that investment in a wind farm is more attractive when the capital is sunk into equipment that creates energy more of the time.

Estimates vary by a wide amount, but energy storage has the potential to enable wind farms to operate consistently at close to 100 percent capacity. Without energy storage, some wind farms barely operate in the double digits.

Bigger and better wind turbines

The benefits are coming into sharper focus not only because energy storage costs are falling, but also because wind turbine technology is improving.

The U.S. is already dotted with wind farms that are operating with older, less efficient turbines. Existing wind farm owners are seizing the opportunity to re-power their wind turbines with new technology. That provides an opportunity to scale up the energy storage component as well.

Gorrill also notes that energy storage technology, like wind technology, is evolving rapidly. Until recently, for example, lithium-ion battery technology has focused primarily on the electric vehicle market. That means finding a delicate balance between cost, efficiency, size and weight. In contrast, the stationary energy storage field can focus primarily on cost and efficiency. 

KORE Power’s Mark 1 utility-scale battery illustrates the difference in approaches between mobile and stationary energy storage, and the company is already keeping an eye out for future iterations of the technology.

Energy storage is replacing gas

The scaling-up of wind (and solar) capacity also has direct implications for the United States' reliance on gas power plants.

In recent years, grid stakeholders have relied on building new gas “peaker” plants to provide extra electricity during high demand periods. Now, the preference is shifting to building energy storage facilities instead of gas peaker plants.

“One of our biggest opportunities for storage is the peaker plant," Gorrill explains. "Every utility in the world has one. It’s usually gas or coal, but if you take that peaker plant and replace it with batteries, you can charge it at night. What’s happening is that the battery component of these platforms is economically viable enough to work. We don’t need a lot of subsidies.”

Storage is generally source-neutral, meaning that a battery could be recharged through fossil fuels or nuclear power as easily as renewables. Nevertheless, the falling cost of both wind and solar provide renewables with an important bottom line advantage.

In addition, cities and states with aggressive renewable energy goals are pushing the movement into wind and solar storage, and away from gas. One good example is the city of Los Angeles, which is on track to abandon a plan for building three new gas peaker plants in favor of energy storage and renewables.

More wind power for U.S. businesses

Over and above all of this activity is a new burst of development in the U.S. wind industry. Previously confined to onshore wind farms, the wind industry is finally on the verge of tapping into thousands of megawatts in U.S. offshore wind resources.

When that happens, it looks like the energy storage industry will be ready.

Image credit: Karsten Würth/Unsplash

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Climate Transitions Won’t Happen Without Social Justice and Greater Democracy

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(Image: Students take to the streets of Vancouver, Canada, calling for more urgent action on climate change and just climate transitions.) 

By Mathilde Bouyé and Jesse Worker 

The September U.N. summits on climate action and sustainable development offered a stark contrast between the half-empty, access-restricted meetings inside, and the streets from thousands of cities worldwide filled with protesters, demanding climate justice from the political leaders that have thus far failed them. Inside, the most inspiring and ambitious statements came from youth, indigenous leaders, small island states and other countries that have contributed the least to the problem.

While action from the world’s largest emitting countries fell short of expectations, public mobilization broke records: Over 4 million people across 185 countries joined climate strikes on September 20 and more than 7 million on September 27.

This mass public mobilization underlines the intertwined nature of the climate crisis with crises in justice and democracy. Governments would do well to listen to their constituents’ demands for urgent, just, people-powered and inclusive climate action.

Civil initiatives are becoming increasingly confrontational

Unlike more traditional climate activism, which was often led by non-governmental organizations, the latest wave of civil initiatives is multigenerational, comes from the bottom up and has wide public support.

This year has seen unprecedented momentum of civil disobedience confronting political inaction. School strikes for climate were organized in over 125 countries, and record protests blocked coal mines from Germany to the Philippines. Extinction Rebellion, a rapidly growing global civil disobedience movement, has made headlines from Melbourne to London and Rio de Janeiro with direct actions asking for drastic changes to face the climate emergency.

Climate litigation has also become a global trend. NGOs, youth and elderly people—including a group of grandmothers—are taking  governments and fossil fuel companies to court for failing to fulfill their obligations. Courtroom victories in the Netherlands, Colombia and Pakistan provided a template for a global legal movement to compel governments to step up. In France, 2.1 million people last year signed a petition to support such a lawsuit filed against the French government. A growing number of complaints maintain that government inaction is a violation of human rights. This includes the U.N. complaint filed by Greta Thunberg and 15 other young people against five big emitters, citing the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This global movement demands climate ambition and justice

Public mobilization movements around the world are demanding urgent climate action based on human rights and intergenerational and social justice, going beyond the so-called “eco-warrior” narrative. This builds on increasing awareness that the climate crisis threatens fundamental rights to water, food, safety and housing, and exacerbates inequality. The United Nations rapporteur on poverty and human rights acknowledged as much this year by warning against a climate apartheid “where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”

These movements also demand equal access to the benefits from the climate transition. Climate taxes, green technologies and adaptive solutions, such as population displacements, can put greater burdens on low-income and disadvantaged groups.

Climate measures perceived as unfair are increasingly sparking pushback. French Yellow Vest activists and Filipino jeepney drivers had similar reasons for rejecting higher prices for fossil fuel and a shift toward electric vehicles: They fear revenue and job losses. The yellow vests were not anti-climate action, they were pro-justice, and they put forward proposals to strengthen climate action while ensuring that big businesses contribute their fair share and that there is equal access to electric vehicles.

There is ample evidence that governments can leverage climate action to reduce inequality. Major transformations in energy, land-use, housing, economic and transport systems can be designed in ways that offset existing inequalities in access to jobs, resources, services and opportunities. Small-scale renewable energy can help achieve universal electricity access, for example, just as energy efficiency can dramatically reduce energy poverty and improve people’s lives. Green public transport and ride-sharing systems can disproportionately benefit underserved communities in suburban and rural areas.

There are some promising signs. Nearly 50 countries committed to develop Just Transition Plans to protect workers and promote decent jobs in transforming their economies, and the U.N. launched a new Climate Action for Jobs initiative. While these are welcome efforts, too few commitments address the other social dimensions of the climate transition, such as the Pact of Impact promoting social and environmental investments and the Equity pledge signed by 37 world cities to reduce urban inequality through climate action.

Across the globe, people seek democratic climate transitions

Failure to act on climate change fuels greater distrust toward political elites and shows the limits of representative democracy. The growing civil movement underscores that climate transformations require nationwide conversation, public participation and direct involvement of local communities.

These claims need to be considered in a context of erosion of democracy and shrinking civil space across the globe. The 2019 Freedom in the World report records the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, with civil rights and freedoms of speech under attack and environmental defenders at increasing risk in many parts of the world. A few—too few—initiatives promoted at the U.N. Climate Summit supported greater democracy for sustainable development, including the Escazu Convention on information, public participation and justice and a new Global Hub for Governance.

One of Extinction Rebellion’s main goals is the creation of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice to push for bold political decisions. Such assemblies or conventions have been set up in several countries, including Ireland, the U.K. and France, to unlock progress on actions that might otherwise be blocked.

Experiences of direct democracy to drive social and ecological transitions are also growing around the world. There is some evidence that local, community-led solutions support climate transitions. Some local initiatives, in places as disparate as India and France, indicate that people can effectively advance sustainable options when they are making decisions for their own communities.

Climate transitions offer great opportunities for such initiatives that reinvigorate local democracy. Distributed energy systems, short and circular supply chains, and nature-based solutions can give back economic power to local communities and offer opportunities for new collaborative and inclusive forms of management.

This potential is also seized by an increasing number of local, people-owned cooperatives managing shared resources (water, energy, parks), also called “commons," or sustainable economy projects (locally-sourced supermarket; repair shops). These social innovations can contribute to making climate transitions more democratic, inclusive and affordable.

These multiple forms of public mobilization have a strong role to play to pressure governments to step up climate action by 2020, hold them accountable for climate justice and take initiatives to scale up impact.

People-driven and -centered social and democratic innovations have proven environmental and social benefits and could also help restore trust in politics. This movement may be our greatest source of hope to tackle the climate emergency.

This story was previously published by the World Resources Institute 

Mathilde Bouyé is an Associate in the World Resources Institute's SDG Delivery Team and the Sustainable Finance Center. She conducts research and activities on policy coherence for sustainable development, with a focus on ensuring a joint and consistent implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to global climate action. Follow her on Twitter.

Jesse Worker is an Associate II with the Environmental Democracy Practice (EDP) where he developed and manages the Environmental Democracy Index—the first tool to measure how well national laws in 70 countries protect access to information, public participation, and access to justice for the environment. He is also the climate governance strategic lead for EDP, working closely the World Resources Institute’s Climate program and Climate Resilience Practice. Follow him on Twitter.

Image credits: Flickr/Roaming-the-Planet and Unsplash/Marcus Spiske

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