Introducing Singh on CSR: A Journalist With a Purpose..and an Opinion

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*Updated July, 2014

Most recently the Editorial Director at CSRwire, a digital media platform for the latest news, views and research on CSR and sustainability. Along with leading content distribution, social media strategy and CSR/sustainability reporting services for CSRwire members, I also led Talkback, CSRwire’s aman singh, csrwireCommentary section, with over 250 contributors and increased traffic 35% – 50% year to year.

The channel featured several influencers and thought leaders – John Elkington, Hazel Henderson, Wayne Visser – as well as authors – Frances Moore  Lappé, Bob Willard, Carol Sanford – researchers, activists and CSR/sustainability professionals – AMD’s Tim Mohin, Campbell Soup’s Dave Stangis, Sustainability leader Peter Graf, John Edelman – and served as a platform to push the needle on critical topics, learn from each other and constantly crowdsource new ideas, partnerships and best practices.

While at CSRwire, I’ve had the pleasure of working with numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as the country’s leading nonprofits and academic institutions on creating and implementing communication strategies focused on stakeholder engagement and behavior change, including Unilever, Verizon, Aramark, SAP, Campbell Soup, Nestle Waters North America, McDonald’s, General Mills, HP, Mars, Avon, Sodexo, EarthShare, Points of Light and others.

Our Stakeholder Engagement Campaigns – including live Twitter chats and webinars as well as content series and multimedia – generated millions of impressions, hundreds of participants and provided our members with critical feedback, important partnerships and a pulse of their stakeholders’ concerns.

I’ve also been an active journalist for almost 15 years, including stints at The Wall Street Journal, The Villager, Tehelka.com and Vault.com, where I created, designed and managed the recruitment industry’s first CSR channel aimed exclusively at engaging, debating and discussing corporate social responsibility, sustainable (and unsustainable) business practices, responsible (and irresponsible) leadership, diversity and the lack of it, the role of workplace culture in our lives, social entrepreneurship, the newly-minted term ‘intrapreneurship’ and much, much more.

Careers in CSR and Sustainability

Vault’s CSR Channel

Skepticism is second nature to me and I’m most comfortable asking [mostly the right] questions, facilitating dialogues, editing copious pages of text, refining even the most academic articles into easy-to-read blogs and thrive on the opportunities extended by a new world of social media and access to organizations and change makers.

This is my space – to question, analyze and discuss.

I’ll examine the latest CSR report and debate how we’re faring in our pursuit of materiality and creating a new economy built on wellbeing and shared value. No question is small enough, no development unrelated. And no topic unworthy.

From careers in CSR to the future of GRI reporting, from analyzing the do(s) and don’t(s) of sustainability to the latest in impact investing and our search for materiality; from social media etiquette to transparency in this new hyper-connected world, from work/life balance to gender and age discrimination, from effective communication strategies to the immensely irritating term “greenwashing”; and much much, more, join me for a promising and thought-provoking ride.

-Aman
@AmanSinghCSR

Brewing a Better Future [#BaBF] with Heineken: Examining the Many Flavors of Local Sourcing

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Earlier this year, TriplePundit‘s Nick Aster and I chatted with the Heineken team to discuss what “Brewing a Better Future” meant for the company. It coincided with the Heineken's sustainability teamrelease of its latest CSR Report and the chat, which began with a selfie of the Heineken team, was both engaging and active.

It also revealed an area that deserved more digging than we could get to in the allotted hour: the company’s sourcing practices.

So we decided to team up with the experts for Round 2! This time we’ll chat with Heineken’s sustainability leadership team including:

  • Michael Dickstein (MD) – Director, Global Sustainable Development
  • Paul Stanger (PS) – Local Sourcing Director, Africa & Middle East Region
  • Edwin Zuidema (EZ) – Global Category Director, Raw Materials

Here’s what you need to know:

Date: August 27, 2014

Time: 11am ET

Hashtag: #BaBF

Speakers: @HEINEKENCorp

Moderators: @AmanSinghCSR @NickAster @TriplePundit

To RSVP, send out the following tweet:

I will join @HEINEKENCorp @AmanSinghCSR @NickAster & @TriplePundit to discuss local #sourcing on 08/27 http://bit.ly/BaBFchat #BaBF

Got a question? Include it in the comments section below or send it to contact@triplepundit.com. Talk soon!

From Conflict to Collaboration: Kimberly-Clark and Greenpeace Participate in LIVE Twitter Chat

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When two adversaries decide to cut across their divides to work together toward a bigger cause, Kleercutchances are there’s a story – or two – to be told, learned from and examined for replicable tips.

Five years ago, Greenpeace launched a nationwide campaign aptly titled #Kleercut to invoke consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark to reexamine its fiber sourcing standards. K-C responded by inviting Greenpeace to a meeting.

What emerged from a series of meetings that followed that initial, tense meet up was a collaborative framework that has shifted K-C’s sourcing standards and helped offer both greenpeace and kimberly clarkorganizations a tangible way to move forward on protecting and conserving forests worldwide.

Today, K-C reports a significant increase in its FSC-certified fiber use and notes higher sales across its Kleenex and Scott tissue brands.

Marking their “wood” anniversary, K-C’s Sustainability Strategy Leader Peggy Ward along with Greenpeace’s Richard Brooks and Rolf Skar, decided to participate in a live Twitter chat facilitated by TriplePundit’s Nick Aster and me on August 5, 2014.

The questions were flying in even before we started keeping the panelists busy through the hour and more: from a behind-the-scenes story about how the two began collaborating five years ago to the future of alternative fibers and how the organizations are working on connecting consumers with sustainability, we covered a lot of ground.

Tweetbinder KC-GP tweets stats

Here are the stats: http://www.tweetbinder.com/rs/db6u3eRDv67

For highlights, grab the #Storify version. And to also grab our audience’s perspectives, search for #ForestSolutions on Twitter!

Chatting LIVE with Mars’ Sustainability Chief: Integrating Sustainability, Driving Responsibility

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On July 24, 2014, I facilitated a live Twitter chat with Barry Parkin, Chief Sustainability Officer at Mars, Inc. and TriplePundit to offer an opportunity to learn more about sustainability at the food manufacturer.

As a lead up to the chat, Mars published its fourth annual Principles in Action Summary, which details the company’s approach to business, its progress, and the shared challenges facing both its Marsbusiness and society.

As one of the world’s leading food manufacturers with more than 130 manufacturing sites and an expansive supply chain, how does the company contextualize sustainability, set goals that encompass its social and environmental footprint, grow its supply chain and do it all responsibly?

For an hour we chatted – with 104 attendees generating almost 600 tweets, over 3.5 million impressions and 27 questions. Here’s the Storify summary.

And here are Parkin’s responses to the questions that we couldn’t get to in the hour:

  • @cmehallow: Does @MarsGlobal use @CDP Water Disclosure to manage/measure its #water impacts?

We have just completed our second CDP Carbon response and are evaluating the Water and Forest programs.

  • @csrdispatch: This might be a cheeky question, but do you feel a conflict between commitment to sustainability and selling junk food?

Our consumers, both people and their pets, get nutrition and pleasure from our products.  We are continuing to look at the role of our portfolio in addressing nutrition and obesity.

  • @dgardinera @dataeco: What have been your experiences with large #renewableenergy procurement?#MarsSusty

Our most recent large scale project was Mesquite Creek, but we have on-site projects or 100% renewable contracts at more than a dozen globally. We also just announced another project in Australia last week: http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/10219-the-sun-won-t-melt-this-mars-bar.html

  • @kellyfmill: Specific ways #sustainability goals are integreated w/ other departments? 

We believe it’s everybody’s responsibility, therefore we have goals in all functions/departments in the business. 

  • @jsonenshine: Can you share how you are driving farmer productivity? [A3b: Driving farmer productivity is our way to do both.]

Yes, as an example in cocoa, we are providing training, latest planting material and access to fertilizer for farmers.

  • @wssocialimpact: How does @MarsGlobal address sustainability goals in the short term?

We have a range of Sourcing Targets for 2015 and 2020 and Operations Targets (SiG) for 2015. More info at:

http://www.mars.com/global/about-mars/mars-pia/our-operations/sustainable-in-a-generation.aspx

http://www.mars.com/global/about-mars/mars-pia/our-supply-chain.aspx

  • @gurumug: How do you cross-verify #sustainability reporting standards/systems ?

We have a third party audit of our data and an assurance by Corporate Citizenship.

  • @greenguyboston: Glad to see your sustainable sourcing goals, but what is your progress to date against them?

Check out our 2013 Principles in Action Summary to learn more on our progress to date: http://mars.com/pia.

  • @jreneemorin: What are @MarsGlobal biggest challenges working with suppliers on #MarsSusty?

One of the challenges is that we work with 100k+ suppliers and often many tiers of them back to the farmer. 

  • @cmehallow: When @MarsGlobal needs to access capital markets, does its strong #susty program provide advantage?

We are a private, family-owned business, but we do believe that boosting our reputation through sustainability is crucial to attracting great people to work for us

  • @rohitms4: Is there any specific standard to measure your success in #sustainability?

Yes, measurement of impact and not just activity. 

  • @earthshare: How is @MarsGlobal investing in associates and their communities? #MarsSusty

In 2013 we did more than 500K hours of Associate training, and through the Mars Volunteer Program, 19K Associates devoted 70K hours to their communities.

  • In response to A15: @darrylv asked: That is promising. How about elsewhere in your supply chain? #MarsSusty

Because there are more farmers in cocoa than any other crop we purchase, we started there first and we’re looking to learn from our experiences in cocoa.

  • @beth_rcarnac: As a Mars Associate, I’d love to ask where have you seen our Associates best come together to collaborate on this #MarsSusty

There are Associates at every factory around the world and collaborating across our sites to achieving our SiG goals. 


Want to chat with us? Email me for more details.

As ICRS Launches UK’s First Professional Body for Sustainability Professionals, Questions About its Efficacy

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With the launch of its first professional body, has sustainability lost its edge? >> Interesting albeit controversial take by Guardian Sustainable Business’ Jo Confino.

Does the sustainability sector need one more professional accreditation?

As you’ll see from the comments section, the opinion on that is divided down the middle. And while we all probably have also an opinion to add depending on our background, longevity of work in the sector and where we stand on the idealism scale, the discussion reminded me of my first “CSR workshop.”

Conducted by the Center for Sustainability & Excellence [CSE] group and certified by the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment [IEMA], the workshop had all the telltale signs of a robust professional certificate curriculum.

From comparing the leaders vs. the laggards in “CSR practices,” the emerging trends in CSR reporting and the regional differences in how corporations were interpreting “corporate social responsibility,” to writing a CSR plan for my company that encompassed sustainability factors as well as social and economic goals, the curriculum was rigorous and gave me a lot of information to process and use for years to come.

It also gave me a moniker – CSR-P – that I have used over the years to indicate that I am a CSR Professional.

Did it invite curiosity? Often.

Did it help explain my credentials and experience more credibly? Sometimes.

More importantly, the workshop made me think. It made me dive into research. It taught me materiality and helped me sift between greenwashing, whitewashing and the many other labels of our sector. And it also opened up a path for me that otherwise would have remained superfluous and intangible in definition.

But back to Jo’s article: Do we need one more professional accreditation?

Probably not.

But as the sector grows, divides, integrates and subsumes within organizations, we do need groups/associations to allow sustainability professionals to learn from each other’s challenges, share best practices and grow the cadre of professionals integrating CSR and sustainability into their skill sets and mindsets.

And if this critical mass of influencers and practitioners can then influence other professionals – HR, Accounting, Technology, Finance, etc. – to shift their thinking and modus operandi to align with our mutual goal of preparing ourselves to coexist in a shared / new / circular / no waste [pick your preference]  economy, that would be a win.

Not only for the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability but for our entire sector.

Thoughts? Leave a comment or connect with me @AmanSinghCSR.

Careers in CSR: Networking Your Way To Success

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I met PwC Canada’s James Temple at a roundtable of CSR and sustainability leaders brought together by Edelman in Minneapolis in 2011 to discuss how they planned on moving forward on their commitments and what roadblocks they saw ahead.

I was the chosen facilitator for the hour and luckily for me, I got to ask all the questions!

The conversation was busy, high level and revealed a lot about the challenges these practitioners were facing as they worked to change the systems within their multinational corporations. While the roundtable was operated under Chatham House rules, the relationships that were formed that day continue to flourish.

Longevity is a true asset in this sector – and James has continued to be a wonderful resource and a much-needed mentor for those looking to pursue a career in the CSR field – critical as generations turnover across our workforce and expectations and mindsets on corporate social responsibility shift globally. He recently also facilitated a webinar to explore some of the latest trends in building a career in CSR. I asked him to pen some highlights and top tips for readers and here’s what he had to say:


 

I recently hosted a webinar focused on exploring trends and insights about building a career in corporate responsibility as part of what’s become a semi-annual conversation between hundreds of prospective practitioners and sector trailblazers.

As practitioners in a field that continues to transform, the conversation was dominated by the importance of networking and how to best leverage relationships toward pursuing a meaningful career. Joining me for the discussion were Paul Klein, president and founder of Impakt; Jerilynn Daniels, senior manager of community investment and marketing at RBC; Alex Daprato, partnership marketing associate at TrojanOne; and PwC Canada’s Sustainability Manager Klaudia Olejnik.

After a quick review of the CSR industry, we switched to discussing our panelists’ respective careers. Specifically, how they got there, if they would recommend breaking into the field today or if integrating a CSR mindset into any role is the way to go – and what they felt some of the key capabilities were that would help set an emerging leader up for success.

We also ran a live Twitter stream to help with on-the-spot responses from across the globe. Most of the questions focused on how to transcend the passion behind the industry to a sustainable career focused on embedding and implementing a complex change management strategy.

And how do we do this in a way that facilitates breaking into an increasingly complex field?

What struck me most was a single word: enough.

Too many times we focus on trying to be everything to everyone, but how can we understand corporate cultures in a way that doesn’t become overwhelming and can be communicated effectively? Could this be a building block to create the foundation for a career in CSR?

The panelists suggested that when thinking about who to talk to and what to ask, great networkers should remember that the CSR field is broad and diverse, and that practitioner experiences will be dependent on a variety of factors, including age, maturity of the organization that they are working for, geographic location, cultural norms and industry, just to name just a few. And framing good questions will be key to helping uncover the right information to inform decisions about a career in CSR and the tools needed to succeed.

From the hour-long conversation that featured numerous questions from an active audience, here are three recommendations to help enhance the networking experience:

  1. Brainstorm CSR related scenarios through open-ended questions

Great networkers focus on asking strong, open-ended questions during an informational interview and look for ways to create a knowledge exchange that’s mutually beneficial. When meeting with established CSR professionals, panelists recommended spending time working through scenarios or situational examples to compare diverse perspectives and ideas.

  1. Build a rapport that highlights genuine authenticity

Use networking time to build a rapport. Try to highlight a deep understanding about social issues, examples of continuous adaptation, or the ability to synthesize complex information in a way that can be re-communicated across diverse arrays of stakeholder groups.

  1. Use a shared language and keep the conversation focused around value creation for both people

In CSR, business language can be technical and complex.

Get back to basics, keep things clear and concise and remember to talk within the confines of a person’s role. Don’t overwhelm your mentor with general questions about how to change the world – they probably don’t know how (none of us do)! Instead, share complementary ideas that allow you to learn from each other.

Remember that curiosity is the name of the game, and you’ve got to check your ego at the door: CSR is a profession, not a persona. Let good communication skills guide your networking conversations, don’t let your passion to be a change-maker get in the way, and follow-up with those you’ve met to thank them for their time.

Combined, this might sound pretty basic but it’s the art of synthesizing complexity that will set you apart – and will make sure people remember you for your tact and talent.

About James Temple:

James Temple is the Director of Corporate Responsibility for PwC Canada and has a dual role leading the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation. In this capacity, James provides oversight to the Canadian Firm’s internal Corporate Responsibility strategy, representing the ways PwC integrates good social, environmental and economic values into its business operations.

#RaytheonCSR: Addressing the STEM Crisis, Empowering Veterans, Contextualizing Sustainability

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Last week I facilitated a Twitter chat in partnership with Nick Aster at TriplePundit on how defense and aerospace behemoth Raytheon contextualizes corporate social responsibility [CSR]. On the podium answering questions was VP for Corporate Affairs and Communications Pam Wickham [@PamWickham1].

Pam Wickham, RaytheonThe conversation, which saw 147 participants and generated over five million impressions, traversed through a number of topics and invited many interesting questions from the audience.

Some of the questions:

  • How does the defense company associate itself with being a “green” company?
  • How is the company leveraging its reach and footprint to address the growing decline in students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] subjects?
  • How is it expanding its social responsibility efforts to reach a global audience?
  • What were Raytheon’s priorities for its $29M budget for operational sustainability?
  • Why doesn’t the company disclose its recruitment/retention numbers on women – and how does it attract a diverse workforce without this disclosure?
  • Does the company see sustainability as a competitive advantage?

While we weren’t able to get to all the questions in the hour, Wickham was prompt and enthusiastic with her responses. Grab the recap on Storify and stay tuned for more.

People Get Sustainability, Business (and Marketers) Don’t: 20 Minutes with the CEO of Unilever

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Last month, Unilever CEO Paul Polman was in town – New York – to receive the Lifetime Achievement award from the Rainforest Alliance. As Rainforest Alliance President Tensie Whelan put it, “Paul has made several lifetimes of difference by leading Unilever to become a game changer.”

The company’s work with the Rainforest Alliance is well-known – by setting targets like sourcing 100 percent of its palm oil sustainably, Unilever has made it easier for other companies to follow suit and helped complex supply chains become comfortable with change and collaboration.

And, the company hasn’t stopped at palm oil.

Today, roughly 50 percent of the company’s tea originates on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms as it works toward sourcing 100 percent of its raw agricultural materials from sustainable origins (that figure currently stands at 48 percent).

Having recently interviewed Unilever’s Marketing Chief Keith Weed on the company’s refreshed goals and commitments, the opportunity to discuss sustainable development from the vantage point of the outspoken CEO was tempting. We caught up over a quick phone call:

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan:

“When we launched it we said we don’t have all the answers. One of the reasons why we are working so wellUnilever CEO Paul Polman with Rainforest Alliance is because we share common goals. Take tea for example: Standards are driving up fast in an industry that’s not easy to standardize. [This is where the] scale of Rainforest Alliance is significant – and essential for the USLP to come alive.

“[Its] only been a year since the Rana Plaza fire happened. Those 1,050 women worked in conditions that were little more than modern-day slavery. We’re determined not to let that happen in our supply chain. So we’ve put some goals to match our resolve. We’re going to help more women gain access to training and land rights. The transformation can be substantial.”

Pushing forward in the absence of political will/action:

“In the absence of politicians, we need to move faster. Climate change is a great opportunity for business. Report from the White House is an encouraging sign. Needle is starting to move in the U.S. The tornadoes and hurricanes are starting to drive the message home for people.

“Besides, this is probably the only opportunity we’ll have. The Millennium Development Goals, for instance, are due to be completed next year – the urgency cannot be watered down.”

The most critical challenge for business:

“The biggest challenge is [that] we cannot scale our ambitious goals alone. It’s a major challenge to create the right partnerships and increasingly difficult to get the political sector to participate. How do you create size and scale in a vacuum?”

The changing role of marketers:

“I always say, don’t blame the consumers. There are many examples where consumers are leading business, especially the young ones. They’re changing our lives and systems.

“Consumers are speaking out everyday but we don’t want to see it. Then we say the consumer doesn’t want to change. If we can tap into the enormous movements, we can create change much faster. That’s the job of the modern-day marketers. Their job has changed. It doesn’t work any more to push consumption. We need a new model and get companies to adjust their marketing strategies as well as their job roles.”

People get it, business doesn’t:

“I spend a lot of time on how to develop leaders who can lead us through partnerships, with purpose, can think long-term and beyond 2020. On my way back from Abu Dhabi last month, I was reading an article that reported university students rebelling against the way economics [is being taught]. If teachers are teaching Milton Freidman’s theories, who is going to change the economy? For my kids, sustainability is the new normal. They don’t want to watch TV or buy the newest gas-guzzling car. Their generation is already thinking differently. Yet, marketers keep saying consumers don’t want it.

“Our understanding of consumers [and consumption] is too narrow. We need to get much closer to consumers. If we go to any of the emerging markets – 81 percent of the world’s population lives outside the U.S. and Europe – most of the growth is occurring in climate stretched areas today. They might not understand Rio+20 or climate change language but they know that weather patterns are changing, water is decreasing, etc.”

From mindless to mindful consumption:

“Marketers should switch from asking whether consumers are willing to pay for something to which consumer doesn’t want less poverty, more education, a healthier world with cleaner air and better nutrition.

“We just need to be astute about solutions. Look at the Edelman survey – consumers expect more and more from business, and if business understands this, it is a wonderful time. Children die from diseases which we can solve with hand washing – new market – marketers should be very excited by this. But that connection is not there.”

Three actions to change the world:

“We must get out of short termism because lots of solutions are long-term [climate change, access to education, water shortage, etc.] – and we can only solve them if we invest over longer periods and evaluate the social and economic capital. Then business people can optimize these. For example, 40 of the top 100 companies are already pricing carbon internally. They’ve committed to stay within these limits. Business is leading because they see the cost of action vs. inaction. We have now 40 countries that are pricing carbon including China. We have 20 other countries that are putting a tax on carbon. The system is starting to move.

“We need to give politicians Unilever Sustainable Livingconfidence that this [focus on sustainable development and long termism] will not kill jobs or stifle growth. The exact opposite is in fact true but we need to provide the proof points.

“We need to get companies to adopt integrated reporting quickly as well as become comfortable with transparency. It’s going to take much more than a nine-to-five job to bring all of this together. We need leaders and we’re short on them.”

If this was his last interview as the CEO of Unilever:

“We can use our scale to transform systems and change. We need to create a better place than the one we were born in. Ninety-nine percent of people are not in a position to make a difference. We can. We need to force change – it’s our duty to leave the place in a better place. I hope this drives Unilever and everyone else.”

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback on June 2, 2014.

Priorities Set, JPMorgan Chase Focuses on Stakeholder Engagement with Latest CSR Report

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Despite the upheaval and the effects that continue to dog Wall Street since the 2008 crash, JPMorgan Chase has managed to recover more elegantly than some of its counterparts.

This has been in part due to a robust community development program targeted at local impact, strategic partnerships, a deeper introspection of its practices, as well as a public acknowledgement that it needs to do more to become part of the solution.

I asked EVP and Global Head of Corporate Responsibility Peter Scher to name the biggest challenge from 2013—a year he acknowledged was a mix of difficulties and successes:

“As Jamie Dimon, our Chairman and CEO said in his annual letter to shareholders, last year was certainly a tough year as we worked to resolve legal issues we had with a number of government agencies. But our businesses stayed strong, we continued to serve our clients and communities, and we launched some of our most ambitious corporate responsibility initiatives ever, including New Skills at Work and the Global Health Investment Fund. We’re extremely proud of what we accomplished in 2013.”

Urbanization, the growing discourses around investing in natural gas and helping small businesses scale featured among the company’s goals for 2013.

Highlights from its 2013 CR Report point to progress more close to home:
JPMC New Skills at Work

  • Launched New Skills at Work, a $250 million, five-year workforce development initiative aimed at helping close the skills gap around the world.
  • Created the Global Cities Exchange, a program to help U.S. and international cities develop and implement regional strategies to boost their global trade and investment. The Exchange is part of the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project with the Brookings Institution launched in 2012 aimed at helping metropolitan leaders strengthen their regional economy.
  • Provided $19 billion in new credit to American small businesses and, for the fourth fiscal year in a row, was named the #1 U.S. Small Business Administration lender by units.

The report also alludes to the firm’s keen participation in the impact-investing and sustainable development sectors.

For instance, it worked “with a group of peer investment banks to develop the Green Bond Principles, a set of voluntary guidelines designed to promote integrity and transparency in the growing market for Green Bonds, which are issued to finance environmentally beneficial projects” and collaborated with “The Nature Conservancy to establish NatureVest, a new initiative of The Conservancy that aims to create a platform to advance investment in conservation.”

As for community investment and employee engagement, the numbers are none too shabby:

  • Donated $210 million to nonprofits in 39 countries and contributed 540,000 hours in employee volunteer hours.
  • Provided nearly $7 million in grants to promote consumers’ financial capabilities across the U.S.
  • Provided $2.7 billion in community development loans and investments to build or preserve 45,000 units of affordable housing, create 1,100 new jobs, enable 784,000 patient visits and serve 4,400 students in low- and moderate-income communities in the U.S.

As for the report itself, JPMorgan is experimenting with a new format. Expanding on its 2012 Report, which featured an interview between CEO Jamie Dimon and Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek as the focal point to introduce the report and address its critics upfront, the 2013 disclosure goes a few steps further and uses interviews with key stakeholders to tell the entire story.

Framed as a series of stakeholder engagements, the report unwraps over 45 pages – half of last year’s hefty 90 pages – neatly packaged with data, infographics and narrated through conversations between key partners, internal experts and external advisers. It’s a good quick flip through and indicates a move occurring across industries to complement material data with visual storytelling.

One excerpt in particular caught my eye:

JPMC Walter Isaacson quote

Chairman & CEO Dimon responds:

JPMC_2013_highlights

“One thing to keep in mind is that where we did make mistakes, we’ve acknowledged them and made significant progress toward fixing them. We’re investing unprecedented resources to ensure that our compliance and control processes and culture meet the highest standards. And the changes we’re putting in place are designed to make certain our controls will be robust and effective, day in and day out, over the long term.

“We also fully appreciate that rebuilding trust requires more than talk. Our regulators and shareholders want to see progress and performance – and so do we. There is a lot of progress we can point to already, and, by the end of the year, I believe we will be able to demonstrate the enormous amount more – which I think will go a long way toward restoring confidence that JPMorgan Chase is the safest and strongest bank on the planet.”

Of course, this is all easier said than done – and all eyes are on the firm to ensure long-term sustainability.

As Scher states in his letter, the company’s ability to pull resources and activate its deep relationships—not to mention its talent base—is noteworthy. It is in a unique position to create positive impact, influence investment dollars and foster a more sustainable economy.

But herein lies the rub: can an American icon rebuild trust in the marketplace while doing business with traditional capitalists, a static economy and a model that rewards short-term profits and trading returns?

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback on May 20, 2014.

Climate Denial, Chauvinism and Making Integrated Reports Readable: SAP, BSR and CDP Respond

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In a recent conversation with SAP’s Sustainability Chief Peter Graf about the company’s second Integrated Report, the conundrum between sustainability goals and economic growth kept coming up. Were the two diametrically opposed? Was the ‘conundrum’ a red herring as Henk Campher recently put it?

Working with the SAP team, we decided to turn it into a live discussion. And along with Graf, BSR CEO Aron Cramer, CDP’s Executive Director Nigel Topping and our partner Triple Pundit, we took to Twitter. For one hour, we discussed the trials and tribulations of pursuing sustainability featuring 232 participants contributing 1,388 tweets and over nine million impressions.

But as is often the case, our panelists were not able to respond to all the questions in the hour. Here then are their responses to all the questions we were unable to answer – some questions have been modified for grammatical purposes.

How does a company reconcile a clear need in the realm of sustainability when it’s not a $$$ win for the company? What mechanisms can be used to overcome this barrier? [from @bradzarnett, @beltwits,@thesustoolkit]

Nigel Topping: “Ultimately sustainability issues are business issues and thus addressing them must change the value story. If it changes the story short term you get a P+L benefit, if long-term then through enhanced quality of earnings, talent retention, market share or some other metric, which can also be converted sustybiz-snapshotinto an economic measure.

“Sometimes this is easy – reducing energy waste saves money so the GHG reduction may just be sustainability icing on the cake. But this same action may be making the company more resilient in the face of likely regulation. Remember that value creation is part science part art.”

Aron Cramer: “”As things stand today, market structures and incentives don’t make it easy for companies to make the long-term investments that are often needed to work towards sustainability. We all know that for publicly traded companies, markets often push decisions towards the short-term. As such, emerging efforts to redefine financial success with more attention to long term value, such as integrated reporting, are crucial.”

Peter Graf: “If company itself has no economic reason to do so then the only levers I know of are consumer/customer pressure, public pressure or legislative pressure. If those are applied, then what seemed like an ‘externality’ again becomes revenue and cost relevant.”

Most companies see CSR as taxation without representation. What can companies do to circumvent this view and start acting now? [from @Odyamvid]

Topping: “Companies who see CSR in this way are most likely right! And at the same time leaving value on the table precisely because they are stuck in a mindset, which starts with the assumption that CSR is nothing to do with business. We really do need to see the back of woolly CSR initiatives where no one knows why they exist. There must be a value creation story – it could be direct via resource efficiency or risk mitigation or it could be indirect via brand value enhancement, talent retention, building capacity early to respond to expected consumer trends.

“If you can’t find those plausible stories, which you can tell with conviction to your front line staff, then best just to save your money – you are creating a bigger risk by acting in-authentically. Shareholders can rightly criticize you for wasting their money and NGOs can rightly criticize you for not taking issues seriously.”

Cramer: “This reflects an outdated and discredited understanding of CSR. Indeed, sustainability is about aligning strategy with changing operating conditions and not “taxation.” That said, there are issues where companies should be more active in promoting public policy frameworks that create the right kinds of incentives.  One great example has to do with supply chain labor issues, on which governments have de facto outsourced the responsibility to enforce labor laws to the private sector.”

Graf: “CSR needs to be perfectly aligned with the strategy and how the company creates value. At SAP we focus on education and entrepreneurship in our CSR projects, because they help us drive long-term success as a business. If CSR is not focused on this type of shared value (value to the company and value to society), then it is only a brand building exercise with little substance.”

How can a corporation reconcile short-term needs of shareholders and longer-term sustainability objectives? [from @greengageEnv]

Graf: “Short and long-term value creation do not need to be in conflict. In essence, it’s a balancing act, like always in business. For example, companies have always balanced investments into the future and current revenues to manage their margin.”

Topping: “Companies need a portfolio of innovation to address different time cycles of the dynamics which exist in markets.”

What role do business leaders have regarding climate denialism by other businesses like the stand taken by the U.S. Chamber? [from @kayakmediatweet]

Topping: “Very few business leaders are climate deniers. Even if they don’t believe the science, they have to respond to the growing level of regulation (22% of global emissions are now subject to a price). Leaders have a responsibility to see major change coming and to get out ahead of it, but not too far ahead!

“Climate change is rewriting the rules in many industries – just look at Tesla outselling BMW in California and with a market cap half of General Motor’s already! Leaders also have a responsibility to manage risk. As Bob Litterman, former Chief Risk Officer at Goldman Sachs keeps reminding us – there is an inevitability about the coming price signal on carbon and the less a company is prepared the harder it will be hit. This is already starting to play out in the oil and gas sector with investors pushing dividend returns instead of risky exploration expenditure.”

Cramer: “Businesses very often see further out than governments do. Businesses also like to innovate.  Organized business associations, more often than not, take a lowest common denominator approach that is in fact inconsistent with business interests. Leading companies should use their voice to call for smart regulation and then innovate and compete to succeed. There is a huge opportunity for just such efforts in the run-up to COP-21 in Paris in late 2015: the business voice should be heard, and if it is, companies will help lead the way to  low carbon prosperity. Leaders recognize the importance of this step.”

Graf: “I have personally never used climate change as part of the business case for any sustainability project. Not at SAP. Not with customers. Unless you’re in an industry that depends on climate to be stable (e.g., agriculture), the much better way to argue is the cost of energy, and not the implications and risk of climate change. Energy cost is something I have to deal with today, tomorrow and every day thereafter. There’s zero argument around the probability around that.”

Is the biggest challenge for Integrated Reporting adoption around SME supply chains to ensure sustainable business? [from @mbauerc]

Topping: “No, integrated reporting will impact large listed companies primarily – and the way their integrated thinking leads to changed supply chain engagement will impact the SMEs. In many cases this will allow for disruptive innovations from the savvy small guys.”

Graf: “SME’s adopt more sustainable practices because their customers are expecting it from them. The push is coming from the mega-buyers like the retail giants and trickles down the supply chain from there.”

Integrated reporting is great but how do you get people to read it? [from @angryafrican]

Topping: “Make it the story of your business. I hear more and more business leaders explaining how new graduates are interviewing the companies for evidence of integrated thinking, awareness of the systemic challenges faced by society and a coherent company approach that uses the power of the corporation to make good money by adding real value to society. Telling the integrated story starts at recruitment and goes all the way to analyst calls – it will need to become the same story.”

Cramer: “This challenge affects ALL forms of reporting. But a more broad-minded report is likeliest to attract attention: Integrated reporting could ‘save’ reports.”

Graf: “You need a great overarching story (one story, not many), and use video, interactive charts, etc. to make it interesting. Moreover, use social media to promote it.”

When reporting on energy, carbon, GHG, how can we make it relevant and benchmarked? Standalone figures too abstract to mean much? [from @miamiaki,@jackwysocki]

Topping: “At CDP, we help companies benchmark many environmental indicators and practices against their peers – that’s just good practice but of course it requires good data. Benchmarking process as well as output is important to drive learning and change – for example, what percentage of capex is committed to energy efficiency, does this get same or better payback than average? This sustybiz-tweetalso helps overcome any lagging perceptions that these  metrics are not business-relevant.”

Graf: “We always like to talk in visual explanations. Like ‘SAP consumes the same amount of electricity as a 250,000 people city.’ Or ‘Our customers collectively emit at least one sixth of the world’s man made emissions.’

How has the cloud affected our lives besides our ability to reduce environmental impact? [from @orange_harp]

Graf: “In all the ways that we all experience every day, from music, video, smartphones, millions of apps, social media, social platforms, etc.”

Where do we stand on CSR across the tech industry? Is our personal info staying private? [from @mr_rosenwald]

Graf: “Let me put it this way: I am very conservative about which information I am sharing on the web. The industry is running the risk of losing customer trust. We have to work together to ensure that’s not happening.”

Cramer: “While attention has so far focused on tech companies, almost every business has access to personal information. Companies can look to the principles established via the Global Network Initiative to ensure that this information is treated properly.”

Is part of the gender gap problem that the tech sector is too much of a chauvinistic culture? [How can we] attract women through culture change? [From @angryafrican]

Graf: “I am very proud that SAP has set a target to increase the ratio of women in management positions to 25% by 2017. We have gone up about 3.5% over the last years.”

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback on May 12, 2014.

Fighting for the Sustainable Consumer: A Conversation on Branding, Economic Growth, Risk & Value Propositions

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Do consumers care about sustainability or the sustainable attributes of products and services? Would you book a “greener” hotel if the prices were comparative? Did you start paying more attention to labels after the Rana Plaza fire?

When the discussion turns to issues like purpose, risk and connecting consumers with sustainability, Henk Campher becomes fidgety. The Senior Vice President for Business + Social Purpose with Edelman has been at this for a while. Between working with brands like Starbucks, Levi’s, Best Buy, Abbott Labs and REI and leading the Oxfam International Coffee Campaign, Campher has built a reputation for challenging the status quo while operating within the trenches of corporate corridors.

Recently, he wrote a DoShorts book titled Creating a Sustainable Brand: A Guide to Growing the Sustainability Top Line [get 15% off by using Campher15 in the voucher section] to put some of his strategies and ideas on paper. We sat down for a conversation on the ideas he presents in the book, why he believes that consumers have bought into sustainability, where he sees the PR industry headed as well as his thoughts on separating the chaff from the substance of sustainability claims [Full disclosure: I was one of the reviewers of the book].

Henk_Campher Excerpts:

You write that the problem is not that consumers don’t want to purchase sustainable products, it’s that brands are unable to bring sustainability to life for consumers. Tips?

The most common mistake companies make is to lean too far to either the sustainability of the product or focus too much on how it comes to life for the consumer. The sustainability of a product is only one part of the story – the what part of a sustainable brand. To bring it to life for the consumer, you have to balance this with how this relates to them.

It is a delicate balance but extremely important. Think of the what part as showing the consumer the arms, legs, etc. of the product. It only tells them what it is but it doesn’t create a connection. To bring it to life we should show the personality and all the quirkiness of the brand – the how – to help them connect and care about the product.

Sustainable branding is very much like dating – you don’t go on a date because the other person breathes and resembles a human being. No, you go beyond that to try to make a connection with how that person relates to you and how you can build a relationship. It will be nothing more than a brief fling if you don’t have that connection.

The same for a product – you need to become a sustainable brand or else you will remain a cheap date and/or brief fling. The model described in the book is meant to be a guide on how to build this long-term relationship AND an insider’s guide on how to keep the relationship fresh.


 

Materiality matrices don’t matter to consumers but they’re proving important in helping companies focus. How can they use these to also engage their consumers?

Start balancing your materiality assessments a bit more. Too often the voices of stakeholders heard in materiality assessments are the loudest and not necessarily the most important voices. Activists, NGOs and sustainability influencers are the ones measured and engaged to inform the materiality assessment. But consumer and customer voices are almost completely absent.

Yet, they remain the most important stakeholder – they bring in the money and add to your business top line! Bringing in their voices will help you determine what areas are truly most material to your company and your most important stakeholders. It will tell you where your major threats and opportunities are as it relates to consumers.

Of course materiality assessments suffer from only focusing on the impact of the product on the supply chain. However, that is only part of the story.

As I argue in the book, you can create the most sustainable cigarette but it is still a cigarette. You have to give equal weight to the impact of the product itself. This will help you determine the weaknesses in how something is made as well as the actual impact of the product itself and help you dodge the dreaded claim of greenwashing.

But how sustainable the product itself is only tells you one side of the story.

It tells us what we should focus on when we engage the consumer but not how we should engage them. The next step will vary from brand to brand – determining how sustainability comes to life in the brand. What is the unique value proposition of sustainability in the brand? How deeply is sustainability embedded in the brand identity? How does it show itself to the consumer? Is it disruptive in engaging the consumer or more reserved?

That’s the model I develop in the book – merging the what and how to create a sustainable brand that resonates with the consumer.

Campher_tips

Getting used to failure is tough – you offer a healthy dose of how the best of brands have gone through it. Some tips for our risk-averse private sector?

Failure isn’t tough – it is part of being in business.

Companies who say they are risk averse are doomed to fail. They will still be making the same boring product that increasingly fewer people buy in the future. It was a risk to create the first iPod. It was a risk to create Tesla. It was a risk to create TOMS. It was a risk to take Dove to where it is today. Sustainability folks are risk averse because they are selling sustainability instead of selling a business opportunity.

And I don’t mean improving the bottom line. That has been done and there is no risk left there. Sustainability folks need to step out of their box and become part of business from a product and brand perspective and deliver against the consumer opportunity.

But it’s not just the sustainability people. It is also the communications and marketing people. They think throwing more money at advertising, PR, social media, etc. will create the breakthrough they need to survive. That isn’t risk. That is table stakes and nothing different from what your competitors are doing. At best you can hope for a better campaign.

We need these groups to understand how sustainability can add to the simple question people ask when they buy a product or service – why should I give a damn?

The answer is more complex than a pure sustainability story but sustainability is absolutely part of the answer. Communication and marketing people speak a different language than sustainability people and in the book I try to bridge that gap to get them to both speak “business.” And business is all about calculated risk taking.


 

We’ve embedded sustainability into the very core of our business.” We’ve heard this classic line or a similar version of it a million times by now. It’s classic PR speak – but is there any organization out there that could truly say that and demonstrate it?

Lies, damn lies and sustainability PR.

My other favorite line is “sustainability is in our DNA.” No it is not. Making money is in your DNA.

Jokes aside, the simple answer is yes there are companies with sustainability at the core of their business. Method, Seventh Generation, Tesla, etc. were created with a specific sustainability goal in mind. They aren’t perfect but it is absolutely at the core of who they are. But a true answer is a bit more complex than that.

In the book I create a framework to show how sustainability can come to life in a brand. Sometimes it is truly at the core but in most cases it comes to life in very different ways. I identify eight ways in the framework– from ignored to designed. Method is an example of a brand that was designed with a sustainability goal in mind – absolutely at the core of their business. A brand like TOMS was inspired by a sustainability challenge while a brand like Dove aligned itself with a sustainability challenge.

In short, sustainability isn’t a simple black and white world and it constantly changes. And sustainability isn’t perfect.

The only cliché that might be right is the “journey” bit. But it is crucial that we acknowledge and show the different ways that sustainability is part of a brand, as it will direct the kind of engagement we should have with the consumer. You can’t just go out and hit the consumer (or anyone) over the head with a “sustainability is core to our business” baloney. No one will believe it. Know how it is part of you and then find a way to express it in a way that is relevant to both the consumer as well as the brand itself.

A few weeks ago, you participated in a Twitter chat we hosted on the confluence of business sustainability and economic growth. How would a “sustainable brand” approach the conundrum?

I think the “conundrum” is a bit of a red herring.

We can absolutely not consume the way we consume at the moment and we have to understand how to create sustainable economic growth. However, economic growth isn’t a problem when it comes to sustainability. The problem is that the way the economy is growing currently is unsustainable. For instance, in the U.S. you have an ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor. A more equal distribution of the wealth created by economic growth needs to happen.

It can be done – look at Germany, gap between CEO pay and average worker pay is much lower, they have a much higher minimum wage, outgrow the U.S. economy with higher taxes, more social benefits for the poor, a balance of trade in favor of them, etc. Everything that pundits say will undermine economic growth is flipped on its head in Germany – and it’s working.

It is only a “conundrum” because of a lack of political and economic will to address the unsustainable elements of the economy.

On the consumption side, the world will be fine if people consume more of the sustainable stuff. TOMS and Timberland instead of cheap knock-offs on the streets. Levi’s and GAP instead of fast fashion. Fresh fruit and vegetables locally grown instead of fast food. A Tesla or Leaf instead of a gas guzzler. Renewable energy instead of coal. Method or Seventh Generation instead of high pollutant chemicals.

There’s no problem if growth is based on more sustainable choices. How do we get consumers to do this? Well, like I say in the book… more sustainable brands that look at product and brand!

You’ve worked with numerous companies on brand development over the last two decades. What has shifted?

Firstly, social media and the connected world have redefined how brands interact with consumers. Twenty years ago, companies owned brands and sold that to the consumer. Today, they are merely custodians of the brand and consumers own it. The more agile businesses realize that the easier it will be for them to be trusted as the custodians of the brand – the more consumers will give them their loyalty.

Secondly, price Campher_LRand quality have become increasingly meaningless parts of a brand. Companies know that it is almost impossible to compete on price and have brand value. They would love to think that there is a huge quality difference between them and their major competitors but there isn’t. For instance, the difference between most cars in the same category is almost meaningless. So how do consumers make their choices? According to the value proposition offered by the brand.

Finally, the ways in which brand value proposition comes to life for the consumer has shifted. The days of the big advertising campaign is gone. Today they want you to not only be part of their lives but also do things that are unexpected and disruptive. Consumers are flooded with information and visual stimuli each day. How you break through all of that clutter is key. And that goes beyond simple shiny objects. You have to build it into your brand identity and value proposition – so it is as much strategic as tactical.


 

What remains as challenging?

The single biggest remaining challenge is how most companies remain paralyzed by fear without them even knowing it. Companies’ inability to think outside of their walls and being frozen inside those walls are their biggest failures. They are still navel gazing and seeing the world from only their perspective instead of truly understanding the world.

It comes back to the risk question you asked before – you won’t win if you don’t take risks. But so often companies will say they want to win but don’t really have the guts to do it. This is the difference between good brands and winning brands. Like an athlete – Dick Fosbury (go look it up!) changed the world of high jumping because he was willing to by-pass conventional thinking. Apple and TOMS did the same.

Yes you can point out all their faults but they kicked your backside because they weren’t afraid. Why? Because they didn’t look at what you were doing but rather looked at the problem and the consumer and created something to fill that void.

The other major challenge is how shareholders continue to drive company leaders instead of customers. This problem is too obvious to even state but they are so focused on the next quarter and shareholders that they forgot why they even exist. Imagine if they put as much attention to what their consumers truly want.

You work at the unique cusp between classic public relations and responsible brand development. Where do you see the PR sector headed in the next 20 years?

Sustainability will be like digital skills. It will be part of every single part of the PR sector. It won’t be a separate practice anymore but we are still a very long way from achieving that. Too many PR hacks think they can just make it up as they go. Create a cause here and a consumer campaign there. They will get burnt so many times until they move on and the industry really starts to up-skill all of their people.

Remember, agencies are as vulnerable as any of their clients. The hyper transparent world means that any consumer and activist can look at what agency is behind the greenwashing. No one expects perfection but they better start waking up before they are hit by their own BP-style disaster.

My biggest fear is that PR agencies don’t realize that their people are highly under skilled to handle the shifting world and impact of creating a sustainable brand. The industry will be caught out if they don’t start relooking at what they do and whether their people are geared towards the changing world.

And, of course, for them to be a sustainable PR brand, they will need to start asking what the impact of their service is. The model created in this book goes beyond products – it covers services, software, social media and everything else in between.

A main question remains – do you have a sustainable brand?

The answer for the PR sector is the same as with most other sectors – simply, no. But follow the model and you can start creating your sustainable brand. [Grab a copy of Creating a Sustainable Brand: A Guide to Growing the Sustainability Top Line – get 15% off by using Campher15 in the voucher section.]

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback on May 8, 2014.

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