How will Europe's new reporting rules impact your business?

Mike Hower

Corporate sustainability reporting has come a long way since the first reports published by the chemical industry in the 1980s. Today, thousands of sustainability reports are released by companies and organizations of all types, sizes and sectors worldwide, with the overarching goal of promoting transparency and accountability to help improve internal processes, engage stakeholders and persuade investors. All of this has been voluntary — until now.

On Sept. 29, the European Council voted to adopt a "Directive" — which holds the force of law — requiring certain companies to begin publicly reporting on environmental and social strategies, actions, policies and programs. The European Parliament adopted the Directive in April, which will enter into force after being published in the EU Official Journal. Member states will have two years to transpose the Directive into national legislation, with companies expected to begin reporting as of financial year 2017.

EU leaders claim companies, investors and society at large will benefit from this increased transparency because companies that already publish information on their financial and non-financial performances take a longer-term perspective in their decision-making. They often have lower financing costs, attract and retain more talented employees, and tend to be more successful.

But the Directive not only will affect European firms — several U.S. companies listed on EU regulated exchanges also will be required under the Directive to begin reporting, many of which are not currently reporting on sustainability.

Are you one of them? If so, here is what you need to know:

1. Size matters

The new rules will apply only to large public-interest companies with more than 500 employees and a balance sheet of $25.3 million and higher, or a net turnover of $50.7 million or more. The EU says this is because the costs for requiring small and medium-sized enterprises to apply the rules could outweigh the benefits. Public-interest entities are defined as: exchange-listed companies; credit institutions; and insurance undertakings. Others may be defined by member states as being in the public-interest.

2. Briefer is better

Rather than a fully fledged and detailed report, companies will be required to disclose concise, useful information necessary for an understanding of their development, performance, position and impact of their activities. Disclosures also may be provided at group level, rather than by each individual affiliate within a group.

3. There's freedom to choose

The Directive gives companies significant flexibility to disclose relevant information in the way that they consider most useful, or in a separate report. Companies may use international, European or national guidelines which they consider appropriate. Companies can use the UN Global Compact, ISO 26000 or the German Sustainability Code, to name a few. The Directive provides for further work by the Commission to develop guidelines in order to facilitate the disclosure of non-financial information by companies, taking into account current best practice, international developments and related EU initiatives.

4. Environmental element required

Reports should contain information on current and foreseeable impacts on the environment, health and safety, renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and air pollution.

5. Social and employee issues

Companies will be required to provide information on their diversity policy, including age, gender, educational and professional background. Disclosures will set out the objectives of the policy, how it has been implemented and the results. Companies which do not have a diversity policy will have to explain why not — this approach is in line with the general EU corporate governance framework. Reports also should include information pertaining to respect for the right of workers and trade unions rights, health and safety and working conditions, social dialogue and engagement and protection of local communities. Companies should disclose information on prevention of human rights abuses and tools in place designed to fight corruption and bribery.

All of this might seem overwhelming for companies not currently reporting on sustainability. First things first; a great place to start would be taking a look at the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 framework, which is fully aligned with the Directive’s requirements. The Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, cornerstone of the framework, has become a de facto standard in sustainability reporting.

GRI’s approach is based on multi-stakeholder engagement — all framework elements are created and improved using a consensus-seeking strategy, and considering the widest possible range of stakeholder interests. The organization’s governance structure helps to maintain its independence — geographically diverse stakeholder input increases the legitimacy of the framework. GRI’s basis in multi-stakeholder engagement contributes to its ability to unite and mediate relations among different actors and sectors, including business, the public sector, labor unions and civil society.

Every year, an increasing number of reporting organizations adopt GRI’s Guidelines. From 2006 to 2011, the yearly increase in uptake ranged from 22 to 58 percent. GRI has been endorsed by several national governments as part of their sustainable development policy, such as Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany. The framework even was referenced in the Plan of Implementation of the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

GRI will host a webinar at 11 a.m. ET Oct. 27 about how the Directive may affect company operations.

5 career tips for "retired" sustainability veterans who won't quit

Ellen Weinreb

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the retirement phase of a sustainability professional’s career. Those articles came out of a conversation that Chuck Bennett and I organized with six of his “retired” or “transitioning” sustainability friends. Chuck formally retired from Aveda in 2013 as VP of Earth & Community Care.

Meet the seven participants:

Scott Nadler, ERM, was involved with politics, government, Conrail and the environment, and taught at Northwestern University. He is a partner at ERM, but is contemplating the next phase which increasingly focuses on other professional interests beyond ERM.

Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm, spent 22 years in corporate sustainability, in addition to agriculture, education and forestry. She transitioned from her full-time corporate role at Stonyfield Farm to consulting so as to focus on her core interest in climate change and to achieve a better work-life balance.

Gene Kahn, General Mills, worked in agriculture and branded foods, sold a company to General Mills and became its global sustainability officer. He initiated a program on hunger and poverty alleviation for the General Mills Foundation. He formally retired at age 65 as a result of General Mills policy, and joined the NGO HarvestPlus. On top of his role leading global market development, he also is helping HarvestPlus improve business practices.

Bill Blackburn, Baxter, “retired” as the result of a corporate reorganization. He is writing, consulting and developing a nature conservancy on an old family farm in southwest Iowa.

Lynnette McIntire, UPS, “retired” at age 55, the minimal retirement age at the company. She wanted to achieve a more balanced quality of life; she also was ready to try something else and share her experience, having been a change agent at UPS for many years. Currently she is teaching, consulting, and speech writing.

Chuck Bennett, Aveda, formally “retired” at age 70 after a career in several corporations and The Conference Board. Now he is sorting out what’s next with an emphasis on helping young people with their careers, including students and young professionals.

Paul Comey, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, seized the opportunity of a leadership change to formally retire when he found the job no longer was fun. He had started out in education before becoming general manager of manufacturing in cast iron materials. Then he worked for the CEO of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters as VP of facilities & engineering, before moving on to environmental affairs. He is now pursuing personal interests and consulting with green businesses in start-up stage.

Initial concerns

In considering their retirement, professionals may need to adjust to the prospect of oncoming changes in their life and career.  Scott Nadler described going into a “tailspin” when he realized that he would be turning 60 and wanted to work for another 10 years. He felt like he was “reenacting the salesman’s role in Arthur Miller’s play 'Death of a Salesman.'” 

Some interviewees described fears such as having less influence and losing the financial security of a paycheck. Others cited concerns about being able to stay sharp professionally and personally. As Bill Blackburn said, “The real question was what do I do with my brain?”

Several people spoke of a fear of isolation and being on their own. Lynnette McIntire said, “I’d worked since I was 16 for pretty big companies, so it was scary to dive out there and be ‘an entrepreneur’ for the first time.”

One participant — Paul Comey — said he actually had no concerns when considering his plans for retirement.

Reality check

Despite initial trepidations, how has reality played out for the “retirees”? In short, it’s been terrific.

They have felt supported and encouraged. Nadler said the response to his transition has been “incredibly generous and interested.” Rather than feeling isolated, he has found it to be “an opportunity to get more connected with more different people.”

As described in our first article of this series, there is a continuum of activities and things that people are doing to stay intellectually and professionally engaged. For example, Blackburn has written a book and set up a consulting practice whose proceeds go to an Iowa nature center. Gene Kahn has worked with issues of hunger and poverty in the non-profit sector. Nancy Hirshberg has shifted her focus to climate change.

Chuck Bennett said, “It is possible to ‘transition’ to a different and more personally satisfying career stage and still maintain an acceptable lifestyle through mixing work and other objectives.” And by bolstering their networks and staying engaged, they have kept important connections to others in the field.

There is a range in financial security among the group, which of course can affect post-retirement choices. Some participants are quite comfortable and can travel frequently, donate the proceeds of their consulting or work pro bono, or otherwise pursue professional and personal interests with greater flexibility. Others continue to work full-time or nearly so, be it out of necessity and/or the desire to stay involved. 

Advice from the experts

1. Build your personal brand

Nadler quoted a mentor speaking to EHS/sustainability leaders 15 years ago: “You are all self-employed; most of you just don’t realize it yet.” You won’t have your own employer’s brand behind you when you leave, so working on your presence and visibility in the field will go a long way later on. This can be done in many ways, including speaking at events, writing articles or books, and bolstering your network.

2. Build skills

Blackburn advised working on public speaking and writing skills, which retirees/transitioners rely on heavily. He recommended investing in resources such as Toastmasters, a writing coach and other skill-building supports.

3. Plan ahead

Depending on the circumstances of the transition (expected due to personal decisions or company-wide retirement policies, or unexpected due to a sudden corporate reorganization), employees may have days to years to prepare for their transition. McIntire said, “Build your credentials, exposure and network. What is your expertise and experience that is not easily found?” She has “hedged [her] bets” by venturing into teaching, consulting/communications and speechwriting/leadership. Planning ahead also relates to practical issues such as fiscal security. As Bennett said, “People need to be realistic about their financial situations no matter where they are in their careers.”

4. Take pride in your experiences

Hirshberg said, “As we age, we gain a wisdom and expertise that people younger than us don’t have. This is an incredibly valuable resource for the world; don’t undervalue that.” She and Kahn suggest bringing this experience to help organizations such as NGOs with managing their business.

5. Follow your passion

Take the time to understand your interests, and decide where you’d most enjoy contributing your skills. Bennett advised, “Embrace change as opportunity, not something to be feared. There are so many needs out there — and we as sustainability professionals are blessed with important skills and perspectives — that opportunities for service to society and the Earth are abundant. It may take a while to figure out what works best for each of us, but if there is desire to continue to contribute, the opportunities are there.” Kahn agreed: “The sustainability professional has a lot of service opportunities, including nonprofits, teaching,” and other opportunities to give back to the community.

The first article describes the transitions and paths that these professionals followed after leaving their full-time corporate positions. Top image by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

Can EVs tough it on rural roads?

Laurie Guevara-Stone

Electric vehicles make a lot of sense for city commuters. Over 75 percent of U.S. urban commuters travel less than 40 miles per day, perfect for the range of today's EVs. But do electric vehicles make sense for the rest of us, who choose not to live in an urban setting? Can EVs work in more rural settings, where we're more dependent on autos and the driving distances are greater?

In short, they do and they can. I was able to experience this firsthand when I drove in the first EV Rally of the Rockies, an EV tour to enjoy the fall colors and demonstrate that with a smartly deployed charging infrastructure EVs easily can expand beyond cities.

Western Colorado is one of the best spots to watch the fall colors. People come from all over to drive through the mountains and view the yellows, oranges and reds of the aspen trees against the bright blue sky of the Rockies. Now, with our multitude of charging stations, those sightseeing tours can be done in electric cars.

There are currently 59 level 2 and level 3 charging plugs in 24 locations throughout western Colorado from Vail to Grand Junction and from Steamboat Springs to Durango. In the EV Rally held Oct. 3, eight electric vehicles took off from five locations — Aspen, Snowmass Village, Vail, Parachute and Grand Junction. Drivers included EV owners and enthusiasts ranging from doctors to teachers.

We all converged in Carbondale, where we showed off the vehicles, offered some test drives and had a great EV party. David Miller, Alpine Bank's vice president for business development, drove his Chevy Volt the 100 miles from Grand Junction to Carbondale, with a lunch/charging stop in Parachute, and another short charging stop in Glenwood Springs. Miller claimed he averages 62.3 miles per gallon and hasn't changed his lifestyle at all. "I go wherever I want, whenever I want," he said.

Tackling transportation

I drove RMI's Nissan Leaf, which we use to carpool staff between a bus stop along the Roaring Fork Valley's main highway and the RMI office in Old Snowmass, and my colleague Amy Westervelt drove RMI cofounder and chief scientist Amory Lovins' personal Ford Focus Electric. We took off from Aspen after Mayor Steve Skadron cut the ribbon on Aspen's new level 2 public charging station.

 Laurie Guevara-StoneAspen's Climate Action Plan commits to reducing community greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, below 2004 levels. "There is no way to reach those targets without tackling transportation," RMI transportation manager Greg Rucks said. And an important piece of tackling transportation involves scaling the adoption of electric vehicles.

"To dramatically scale the uptake of EVs we need to address some behavioral elements," added Rucks. And the EV rally addressed two of those behavioral elements. "Seeing people driving EVs around is the best way to show people that EVs are safe, fast, quiet, fun and just as functional, if not more so, than standard vehicles," he said. "And making people aware of the numerous charging stations available gives people assurance that they are viable."

Opening up minds

Although 81 percent of all charging happens at home, and the average U.S. driver drives less than 40 miles per day, range anxiety is still alive and well. Many speakers addressed that issue at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Aspen. "Even though most charging happens at home, having the charging infrastructure available opens the minds of more people to invest in these vehicles," said RMI alum Mike Ogburn of Clean Energy Economy for the Region, which — along with Garfield Clean Energy, the Community Office of Resource Efficiency and Colorado Mountain College — organized the event.

From Aspen we drove to Basalt, where another ribbon-cutting ceremony for another level 2 charger took place. Most EVs come with a 6.6 kW onboard charger, meaning a level 2 charger will deliver about 25 miles of range for each hour of charging; in other words, enough time to grab a lunch, visit historic downtown Basalt and head on your way with a charged battery for more sightseeing. We then headed to Carbondale, which has four free level 2 charging plugs. "These chargers are great for ecotourism. People can come from outside Carbondale and charge right here," said Adrian Fielder, sustainability instructor at Colorado Mountain College, who drove his Nissan LEAF 75 miles from Vail to Carbondale, with a charging stop in Glenwood Springs.

Clean driving

Even if charged with Colorado's dirty grid — 64 percent of Colorado's electricity comes from coal — electric vehicles produce less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline-powered cars. According to Jonathan Walker, a senior associate in RMI's transportation practice, a Nissan Leaf charged on Colorado's grid produces about half the CO2 of a typical 25-mpg gas vehicle. That's because an electric motor is much more efficient than an internal combustion engine. And as our grid becomes greener, with more solar and wind power, EVs will get cleaner. Aspen gets 85 percent of its electricity from the renewable resources of hydro, wind and solar, so charging an EV in Aspen is extremely clean. And when Lovins charges his Ford Focus off his rooftop solar, he produces no CO2 at all.

Besides being a lot of fun, the EV Rally of the Rockies proved that traveling through Colorado is viable in electric vehicles. "We probably have the most robust charging infrastructure of any rural area in America," said Fielder. "Fully electric vehicles are no longer just for commuting." Electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure has come a long way since I owned my first EV in 1994. And as the charging infrastructure grows, so will the adoption of electric vehicles, and we will move even closer to a clean energy future.

Top image of the hood of a Tesla by nitot via Flickr. This article first appeared at RMI Outlet.

How green energy crowdfunding is 'coming of age'

Will Nichols

Triodos Renewables' $7.95 million crowdfunded share issue is a sign that peer-to-peer lending for green energy products is "coming of age," claims the company behind the initiative.

The renewables investment arm of Triodos Bank recently launched the offer to fund an expansion of its 11-project, 53MW portfolio, with investors able to pledge as little as $80 — the lowest minimum investment for a Triodos Renewables share issue.

The company, which has 5,000 shareholders, said it wants to ensure investing in renewable energy is "an option for everyone" and has teamed up with crowd financing platform Trillion Fund to promote and distribute the offer, timed to coincide with Good Money Week.

Investors like reliable returns

The U.K. crowdfunding market hit $3.18 billion at the beginning of this month. It has been identified as an increasingly important method of financing green energy projects, with companies such as Good Energy, Abundance Generation and E2 Energy successfully funding installations.

Julie Groves, chief executive of Trillion Fund and director of the UK Crowdfunding Association, said the predictable returns offered by the subsidies renewable energy projects receive make them highly attractive to the estimated 5.5 million people with savings and investments but no adviser.

"I think it's really interesting that a company as big as Triodos, with a bank behind them, is embracing crowdfunding," she told BusinessGreen. "When you look at the main mass market, what is really appealing are fairly steady returns of 5 to 7 percent which are significantly higher than what we're getting in the banks.

"What we're finding is that a lot of people who are very committed to the environment, but maybe don't feel particularly confident as investors, will come in where there's a low investment amount. You can go through the whole experience and get some things right and some things wrong with ($80) before you make a decision for the bulk of your money."

She added that many of these people represent so-called "patient capital" — leaving money in one place if the returns are sufficient, which also benefits the projects. "People want to put their money in, hear about how it's doing once in a while, but just leave it there," she said. "They don't want to have to switch and churn every two months to make a bit of money for an adviser."

Groves also believes crowdfunded renewables projects should get more support from government, given their potential to lower both energy bills and carbon emissions while feeding into ministers' push for local decision-making and community-based energy schemes.

Having a low minimum investment also ensures as many people as possible can benefit from green energy subsidies such as the feed-in tariffs, which are paid for via a levy on bills, she added.

"We define community as the whole country -— this is an issue for all of the energy bill payers," Groves said. "We can't define it too narrowly as only being small, local groups — we can't be reliant on there being an organized co-op in your town to drive the adoption of renewables and decentralization. We're trying to argue that anybody who pays an energy bill is paying feed-in tariffs and they all should have a chance to profit from them. That's why we think it should be really inclusive and open to anyone."

Green ISAs around the corner

However, while renewable energy project share issues are proving successful, Groves sees the advent of loan-based crowdfunding being included in ISAs from April next year as the change that truly will kick-start the sector by opening up the green energy market to around $731.8 billion of savings held in Indvidual Savings Accounts.

Green ISAs are likely to be among the first products to be launched as they are asset-backed and marry social and financial returns, an increasingly popular outcome for investors, and offer the potential to raise returns while lowering the cost of capital for developers.

"The fundamental change we see is ISAs in the first half of next year," Groves said. "We've still got a long way to go but we think it's the point where crowdfunding will go mainstream."

With green bonds also expected to hit $40 billion this year and reports showing sustainable investments are outperforming the industry average, it could be a bumper 18 months for greener capital.

Top image of leaves and electrical tower by Tor Kristian via Flickr. This story first appeared at BusinessGreen Plus.

What Google knows about greener offices

Heather Clancy

Interior waterfalls and aquariums. Workstations that offer views of gardens, orchards and bright sunshine. Living walls brimming with ferns, ivy and other greenery.

A growing number of organizations from Google to the federal government are incorporating homages to nature into their office blueprints, not just to earn more green building certification points but to reduce employee stress, improve cognitive function and encourage creativity.

"Biophilic design is happening more and more as an outcome of sustainable design and as an outcome of particular design aesthetics," said Suzanne Drake, associate and senior interior designer with architectural firm Perkins+Will. "The driver has been studies that help validate what a lot of designers feel intuitively."

For those who need a primer, "Biophilia is humankind's innate biological connection with nature," wrote design firm Terrapin Bright Green in its recent report, "14 Patterns of Biophilic Design." "It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects. Biophilia may also help explain why some urban parks and buildings are preferred over others."

[Learn more about biophilic design later this month at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

Terrapin's founding partner, Bill Browning, has been abreast of the biophilic design movement since it emerged in the 1980s. Interest has accelerated in the past six to eight months, especially among the high-tech and healthcare sectors, he noted.

"This really focuses on the people rather than the design of the building. Some green buildings miss the human factor," he said. "A structure could be a great, green building but it might not be biophilic."

Pattern and response

Recent examples of groundbreaking biophilic design include the visitor center at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, which is shaped like an enormous orchid for a flood of natural sunlight; the award-winning Via Verde housing complex in the Bronx, N.Y.; and the General Service Administration's modernization of the Federal Central South near Seattle, originally constructed as a warehouse. Among other things, the project converted large areas of "hardscape" into green space.

Judith Heerwagen, an expert in environmental psychology who is an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington, said early pioneers in biophilic design are beginning to demonstrate tangible financial benefits.

For example, she points to research that shows hospitals can shorten the amount of time patients spend convalescing by providing them a view of trees or other elements of nature from their beds.

"If you can show a competitive advantage, it will catch on very quickly," she said. "Where you put walls, daylight is one of the biggest factors of all."

[Catch Judith Heerwagen in person at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.] 

Browning cites a more specific example involving the call center for a utility company. By spending about $1,000 per workstation to let employees glance outside, the organization was able to boost call-processing time and improve per-employee productivity by 6 percent, he said.

How can a company recoup that financial benefit? "You already see this captured in real estate values or hotel room prices," Browning noted. "The view of the parking lot is less expensive than the view of the ocean."

In its report on biophilic "patterns," Terrapin Bright Green highlights some of the more common design elements: visual and non-visual connections with nature; non-rhythmic sensory stimuli; variations in thermal and air flow; the presence of water; use of dynamic and diffused light; connection with natural systems.

Google's interest in biophilic design is probably best personified by its Healthy Materials Program, a corporate-wide program that screens building products for hazardous or health-questionable substances and seeks bio-based alternatives to items of concern. In addition, the company has issued guidelines for designing sunlight and fresh air into workplaces wherever possible, said Anthony Ravitz, Google's real estate and workplace services green team lead.

"Here at Google, we value feedback and want to make sure people are comfortable and happy, so every quarter we issue a workplace survey to understand how our workplaces, including the biophilic elements, impact the day-to-day lives of Googlers," Ravitz said in an emailed response to my questions about the company's interest in biophilia.

"We've found that Googlers with desks closer to windows are more likely to feel that their work environment lets them be more productive and sparks creativity," he wrote. "This feedback reinforces our belief that building design helps reduce stress levels, increase creativity and improve performance, and we'll continue finding ways to measure and support this."

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Susan Shaheen: How car sharing accelerates sustainability

Matthias Krause

Catch Susan Shaheen in person at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.

If you've attempted to dive deep into the topic of car sharing, chances are you've come across Susan Shaheen, or at least some of her studies. About 18 years ago she fell in love with the concept, even though she'd probably never put it that way.

The idea of car sharing "resonated" with her, she said, as a Ph.D. student at the University of California at Davis looking for a dissertation topic. She saw a lecture by Michael Glotz-Richter, a German Marshall Fund Fellow from Bremen. She was fascinated by behavioral effects of people joining car sharing, and the resulting benefits for the environment, she recalled from her office at the University of California at Berkeley, home of the Institute of Transportation Studies, where she serves as a co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

"He essentially showed that 44 percent or 45 percent of vehicle kilometers traveled were declining due to the use of car sharing, and people were selling their cars or not buying cars, somewhere around 7 to 15 I think the numbers were,"  Shaheen said. The reductions in energy use and CO2 emissions were notable, achieved by people changing their behavior.

"I had been working on this idea of the station car that goes to and from the transit station. Is there a way that those vehicles could be shared and we could bring the concept of car sharing to the U.S.? And I was really deeply interested, and studying this by actually demonstrating it, putting a real project on the ground and seeing if we could get people to behave differently, and that's where my work began."

By the numbers

Now Shaheen can prove that the numbers in North America are actually very similar to what Glotz-Richter witnessed in Germany. In a recent study with close to 7,000 participants, a stunning 50 percent either sold a car or didn't buy one because car sharing was available.

And while the general concept has been around for a while now, Shaheen still sees a lot of potential for growth. The classic model of sharing is a round-trip, station-based model. But recently, point-to-point car sharing services have been making inroads, a concept that allows participants to actually use the service to commute to work instead of relying on it more typically just on evenings or weekends.

Shaheen added, "We see college market applications of it in the university environment. We also see employer-based applications of it, and then there's peer-to-peer, so you put your own personal vehicle in. There's a lot of room for expanding this or scaling it into new market segments, both physical and socio-demographic — so older individuals, younger individuals, say in the college setting, but maybe also in retirement communities."

 Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

She sees opportunities to move into a suburban setting with peer-to-peer sharing concepts as well. Which does require a significant behavioral change, though — people having to get into the mindset of sharing their personal asset: their car. And there are risks that need to be addressed, such as the questions of what the insurance is willing to cover. Shaheen feels that the context of the greater sharing economy, a hot topic among Silicon Valley investors, furthers the evolvement of making one's car available for others to use instead of having it sit for 90 percent of its lifetime as well.

"People sharing rooms in their houses through services like Airbnb use TaskRabbit, where people are offering up individualized services to other individuals in their communities," said Shaheen. "We are also seeing bike sharing, which has grown really rapidly. We're seeing scooter networks here in San Francisco, and there's a similar type of program in Barcelona. We're seeing ride sourcing or these types of services that allow people to be community drivers of their own private vehicle and take people from point to point, like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar."

New players are coming into the mobility space and providing options, bringing a new perspective to an old problem.

At the same time, players in the traditional auto environment are starting to toy with the idea that they have to think differently about transportation. Maybe the aim is no longer to have as many people as possible own cars, but to provide transportation services — including real-time traffic information and parking information — and allow people to use cars when they need to without having to own them. Often, Shaheen conceded, the environment turns out to be an afterthought, no more than a welcomed side effect.

All gain, no pain

Which brings Shaheen back to her high school years in upstate New York. As a young student, she started thinking about why protecting the environment is considered a sacrifice.

"Why can't it just be a competitive, compelling, interesting and exciting option, an innovative option that makes me feel really good?" she asked herself back then — and it seems that the challenge of yielding environmental benefits without having to sacrifice hasn't lost its relevance today.

Shaheen grew up in what she describes as a safe, suburban environment, taking the bus to school and the bike to get to the stores, the movie theater or the tennis court. She credits her family's strong agricultural background for her interest in environmental issues.

"We always had gardens and it was a very agrarian environment, so I don't think it was clear to me that I was going to be connected to the environment," she said. "I think it was just organic."

Top image of Susan Shaheen courtesy of UC Berkeley.

Interface's Net-Works program brings fish net recycling to Africa

Heather Dietz

Last month, the Net-Works team had the honor of being in the heart of New York City during Climate Week, participating in the Clinton Global Initiative.

For the past two years, the Net-Works team, made up of changemakers within Interface and the Zoological Society of London, has been dedicated to designing and proving an inclusive business model. This model enables impoverished fishing communities in the Philippines to collect damaging, discarded fishing nets from the ocean and shores. The nets are sold to our yarn supplier, which recycles the nets into nylon yarn that we use in our carpets.

Net-Works in the Philippines has been a success because of the time and dedication committed by our partnership. Making the decision to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative was difficult for us because the time and resources needed to properly make our “commitment to action” and attend the event were time and resources not going directly to the work on the ground.

Once we arrived, all those concerns immediately were replaced by palpable electricity in the air. At first, we felt it was just the rush of being part of such an epic week in the city, but we soon found out that the air literally was humming with the thousands who descended on New York for the historic People’s Climate March. Heather Koldewey, of the Zoological Society of London, and I quickly rushed down to the street, anxious to take part in such a momentous occasion. It was the perfect way to kickstart the week, marching alongside more than 350,000 people dedicated to making change. 

Inspired and energized, we set about the task at hand: declaring our commitment to action.

Our Interface delegate, chief innovation officer Nigel Stansfield, was gracefully received behind the velvet curtain, alongside political and environmental superstars, heads of state and visiting dignitaries. 

Meanwhile, in the lobby of the Times Square Sheraton, hundreds of “do-ers” — support staff, program managers, advocates and press — carved out impromptu offices from which to network and connect. Everywhere I looked, people actively were engaged in conversation, excited as they talked through ways to collaborate on some of our world’s most pressing challenges, including environmental protection, supporting the fragile infrastructure of developing countries and providing a sustainable future for precious social and ecological resources.

It was impossible to have a bad conversation. 

On day two, Nigel participated in an interactive session focused on proving the interdependence of conservation, profitability and economic growth, a meaty topic. He used the power of storytelling to share the history of Net-Works, showcase how the program delivers commercial, environmental and social benefit for all participants, and ultimately delivered our official commitment to action.

Net-Works will add three new net collection hubs in three years and positively affect 10,000 people by 2020.

So that’s it. We’re official.

We always have believed our unconventional partnership would make a dramatic difference in social and environmental sustainability by bringing some of the poorest people in the world into the global supply chain, and by turning waste into resource. But now we’ve declared to the world that we want to grow — and fast.

When Nigel came out of his session, he walked over to our “office” with the grin of a father who just watched his child ride off without training wheels for the first time. As Jesse Jackson sat to our left and Muhammad Yunus walked down the hall, I realized this was exactly where we were meant to be: together as a team, in a flurry of world-changing activity, throwing down a gauntlet.

To date, we have collected 85,000 pounds of discarded fishing nets with our two hubs in the Philippines. Those are nets that are no longer choking the marine ecosystem, but instead have provided supplemental income for people to help support their families. Now those nets will be given a second useful life — as nylon yarn we use in our carpet tile.

Next year, we will launch Net-Works in the Lake Ossa area of Cameroon, West Africa. Our team of marine biologists, manufacturing experts, materials scientists and innovation managers likely will encounter new challenges and face operational hurdles. I am confident that we will overcome them together as a team.

boysittinginnets_zoologicalsocietyoflondon.

Drucker Nonprofit Innovation Awards spotlight social ventures

Susan Nickbarg

Innovation starts with being curious. Calling all the curious!

In its 23rd year, the prestigious Drucker Nonprofit Innovation Awards had 687 applications and 10 finalists, naming one winner last week: HopeLab, a nonprofit that develops games to improve human health and well being.

The finalists have helped to make society more sustainable by addressing pressing human health, education, environmental, and social challenges, such as the availability of safe water.

So often we default to a view of sustainability centered on carbon abatement, energy efficiency, renewable energy or recycling. The work of these nonprofits spotlights additional or new approaches based on shared value, which can provide ideas for unique product, program, or partnership concepts.

The awards, launched by Peter Drucker in 1991, are run by the Drucker Institute of Claremont Graduate University. Drucker, a man filled with curiosity, was a pioneer in management and social theory as well as a writer, consultant, advisor to heads of GE, IBM, the Red Cross, and as a social ecologist. The lessons and legacy of the late Drucker linger on and, in a sense, are renewed and remade each year with the awards.

“In the years ahead, America’s nonprofits will become even more important,” Drucker said in 2005. “As government retrenches, Americans will look increasingly to the nonprofits to tackle the problems of a fast-changing society. These challenges will demand innovation—in services, and in nonprofit management.”

The nonprofit sector is the third largest industry in the United States, with one nonprofit per 175 people.

The winner: HopeLab

HopeLab, founded by scientist and philanthropist Pam Omidyar (wife of eBay founder Pierre), grabbed the $100,000 Drucker prize made possible by the Coca-Cola Foundation. Through its Resilience Initiative, HopeLab addresses the problem of the lack of adherence to medical treatment by young cancer patients. It uses digital games and social technology to help people effectively tackle physical and psychological challenges and increase their self-efficacy.

HopeLab also met a key criterion of the Drucker Award: rigorously documenting measurable impact. To date, the "Re-Mission" video game had the largest randomized controlled study of a videogame intervention ever conducted, with results published in the journal Pediatrics. HopeLab has distributed more than 210,000 copies of the game in 81 countries. It claims a culture of curiosity, complete with its own handout, “Questions of a Curious Leader.”

Finalist: water.org

The finalist with the most intertwined social and environment impact was water.org. The needs are great. The World Economic Forum, in a 2011 report, named water scarcity as one of the top risks facing companies. In fact, 780 million people lack access to an improved water source, about one in nine people. Every minute a child dies from a water-related illness.

In response, Water.org's WaterCredit program helps people with limited access to safe water, sanitation, and financing in the developing world to obtain these necessities. WaterCredit connects financial institutions that can make needed loans available to those in need. Loans mostly go to helping pay connection fees for house water taps and to construct toilets. According to water.org, the loan repayment rate is 99 percent.

Water.org is the result of a 2009 merger between WaterPartners, co-founded by Gary White, and H2O Africa, co-founded by  actor Matt Damon. It operates in part with funding from the PepsiCo and Skoll Foundations.

It’s the first program of its kind, serving as a model in the sector. (Before WaterCredit, virtually all water and sanitation "access" programs were charity-driven). As of June, more than 329,443 WaterCredit loans were made. Water.org seeks to expand operations from nine countries into new markets and models, including new products and channels for deployment.

The potential of microfinance to democratize access to capital for water access and sanitation is paralleled by the potential of technology and social media to democratize access to information: Game changing.

Awards finalists highlights

The remaining Drucker finalists, selected for their social and environmental innovations are:

  • 92Y, which created #GivingTuesday to catalyze philanthropic giving following Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  • Arogya World, whose mDiabetes program spurs people to adopt healthier lifestyles through text messages.
  • Community Environmental Defense Council, whose Taking Local Control initiative makes innovative use of local regulations to give municipal governments the power to stop environmental degradation from fracking.
  • Found in Translation, which is helping to lift low-income bilingual women out of poverty through its Medical Interpreter Job Training Program.
  • Freedom from Hunger, which is conveying vital health information to millions of impoverished women in the developing world by reaching them through microfinance institutions.
  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which has diversified its revenue streams, reduced its reliance on philanthropy and added value to the larger arts community through its consulting arm, Lincoln Center Global.
  • MIND Research Institute, which has created ST Math, a highly effective visual approach to teaching mathematics based on neuroscience research.
  • SightLife, which works with partners across 29 countries to establish eye banks and support more than 17,000 corneal transplant surgeries each year.

Back to innovation

Drucker’s definition of innovation is one I agree with: change that creates a new dimension of performance. Winners of his namesake awards must exemplify this. At the same time, they must create impact, especially in people’s lives. This makes innovation seem pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

That’s not a quick answer. Many of these nonprofits –and innovators – define and cast an innovative solution on a narrow area of a larger problem. Then, they create, validate, and distribute. To do so takes daring. On top of which, in order to develop and advance, it also requires management skills, capacity-building skills, and committed donors and staffers.

The real winners

The work of these nonprofits creates value for society and provides the underpinnings for business, people and communities to thrive. Innovators and change-makers like these appear to solve problems with ingenuity and little money, at least compared to the typically greater resources of business.

Taken all together it’s a pretty big win. The real winners are communities, individuals and the environment as a whole.

Valuable lessons

These are only a few examples of nonprofits effecting social and environmental change. They confirm that it’s possible to make things happen in areas that strike at the social and ecological commons. I would argue that “getting things done,” and well, is best achieved through sound marketing and management fundamentals.

When I make time after hours and on weekends to teach or train working adults marketing, corporate social responsibility and sustainability in university certificate and executive programs or in workshops, I emphasize the fundamentals. Alongside, I set up discussion and examples of innovation. It helps us to gain practice with thinking creatively in ways that lead us into a more sustainable future.

In a sense, the Drucker finalists mimic their new-product-developer counterparts within the private sector. They imagined a new way forward as architects of innovation and evolved new dimensions of positive social and environmental change.

As Peter Drucker said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Does data spell relief for congested cities?

Christine Hertzog

Can data kill your pain? The city of Los Angeles is hoping it will, at least where some data sources are concerned.

In May, the city launched a new DataLA site that features data downloads on topics such as crime statistics and budget information, as well as easy-to-understand visualizations of key metrics at a separate portal called PerformanceLAcity.

A June hackathon encouraged developers to take these datasets and create solutions that improve city life. Projects focused on affordable housing, public transit, and — spurred by a devastating statewide drought — apps to report water waste.

Code for America has similar objectives to enhance the quality of civic life on a broader landscape, organizing hackathons in over 130 U.S. cities so far. Its fourth annual Summit occurred in late September in San Francisco. The non-profit organization places software developers, user interface designers, and data enthusiasts into projects to re-imagine, re-think and/or redesign existing processes to optimize productivity, experiences, and satisfaction.

Traffic hacks with ATSAC

For many cities around the world, one of the most intractable problems is traffic congestion. It’s certainly one of the biggest problems for L.A., where 65 percent of commuters are solo travelers. This sprawling metropolis, which installed the world’s first traffic lights in 1924, has ambitious hopes for innovative solutions based on their traffic data.

The data is collected by Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control and city parking management systems. ATSAC, first rolled out to manage signal timing on the streets surrounding venues used for the 1984 Olympic Games, is now implemented citywide at over 4.400 intersections with traffic signals. Street sensors monitor vehicle passage, speed and congestion in one-second increments. This realtime data delivers situational awareness to the ATSAC operations center to adjust traffic signal timings to reduce congestion. The ATSAC system has a number of measurable benefits, most specifically in travel times, CO2 emissions and fuel use. Any concomitant reductions in road rage haven’t been tracked, but that’s not as easy to measure.

[Learn more about resilient cities at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

On Sept. 22, the city published Request for Information focused on that realtime ATSAC data. The objective is to learn who is interested in this data and what new information and valuable services can be derived with this data.

Smarter grids, smarter decisions

Imagine if electric and water utilities operated this way. If meter data, properly anonymized and aggregated into data sets to protect privacy, were available for hackathons, more feasible solutions for residential rentals and multi-family housing might pop up — two markets sorely underserved by existing home energy management applications.

The federal Green Button initiative has sponsored and participated in hackathons, most recently an event in August in San Francisco, and in September at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Kudos to the organizers, sponsors and participants of these hackathons that take existing energy data sets and create new applications to address the event challenges. It would be interesting to see utilities get engaged in hackathons. One starting point would be to consider what types of data and data sets could be made available to answer a wide range of their challenges.

Leaders engaged in smart city initiatives acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers when it comes to data manipulation and analysis, and welcome outside help via hackathons to optimize infrastructure, enhance services and improve civic life. Could similar activities help utilities engaged in smart grid initiatives ensure that they are getting the most from their data? There’s no doubt that plenty of pain points potentially could be addressed with intelligent data visualizations and analytics. Maybe expanding the pool of solution contributors could accelerate development and deployment of painkillers.

Image of data in city by Zhu Difeng via Shutterstock. This article first appeared at SmartGridLibrary.

How a small company can join ranks with Etsy and Patagonia

Julie Fahnestock

We want to create change and make a profit. We want to improve systems and pay our employees well. We want to innovate, create and produce and we want to do it with all resources, all stakeholders, including the earth, in the forefront of our minds. We don't want to sacrifice profit for mission or mission for profit. We live in the blur. We are the business leaders of the 21st century.

This blurred space has formalized itself as the Benefit Corporation model, where profit and mission are held as equals. B Corps have done something no other business model has ever done. In the same room, they've brought together the big social enterprise players like Patagonia, Ben and Jerry's and Etsy with sole proprietors and smaller enterprises like Honeyman Sustainability Consulting, WorkSquare (and soon my newly founded B Storytelling). We are equals because we share the same standards, the same values and the same goals.

I recently spoke with Ryan Honeyman, CEO of Honeyman Sustainability Consulting and author of The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good about the B Corp movement and what he learned from interviewing several B Corps for his new book. Honeyman got involved with the B Corp model because it represented everything he was talking about with his clients in his sustainability consulting firm.

Free to be better companies

"I used B Lab's Impact Assessment to say to my clients, 'here's what being socially responsible means.' The initial response was excitement. I would show them that Bill Clinton recognized the model and that Patagonia was part of the movement. I was seeing the B Impact Assessment help companies save money on energy, waste, water and increase efficiency and employee engagement. The B Impact Assessment explains the why behind what we do and it increases brand value," said Honeyman.

The B Impact Assessment — created by B Lab, the founding organization of the Benefit Corporation legal structure and certification process -measures a company's impact in four areas: governance, workers, community and environment. Companies must score a minimum of 80 out of 200 on the assessment as part of becoming a B Corp. Honeyman found that there was still a lot of confusion about the B Corp model and the differences between being a B Corp and a B Lab Certified company.

"I needed a tool to hand to a business owner, a tool which outlines everything they needed to know about becoming a Benefit Corporation. The B Corp Handbook is designed to be written in, earmarked and used as a guiding tool," explained Honeyman.

The B Corp Handbook includes a 'Quick Start Guide' to becoming a B Corp which details a plan for taking the B Impact Assessment. Honeyman outlines a process for internal engagement and a plan for improving particular criteria. It also highlights interviews with various industry leaders like Jed Davis, director of sustainability from Cabot Creamery. As part of his research for The B Corp Handbook, Honeyman reached out to the entire B Corp community-over 1100 companies-with five questions. He received 100 responses.

 Honeyman Sustainability Consulting

"How did companies benefit from being a B Corp? What is the biggest gain?" I asked Honeyman.

"A peer group of thought leaders," Honeyman responded. "A lot of companies didn't have peer communities to accelerate and celebrate their individual actions in a global movement. But because we are both part of the B Corp community, I can talk to my friends at Patagonia, for example, about how to attract and engage employees."

Honeyman continues, "In the past, when a company like Patagonia would get press for being a cool company this wouldn't help anyone else. Now when people talk about them, the whole B Corp movement gets press."

A community of diverse peers

Honeyman refers to the B Corp Community as a "tribe of like-minded people." At last year's B Corp retreat in Colorado, Honeyman remembers everyone clapping for the one B Corp who came from Mongolia.

That sense of camaraderie is easy for Honeyman to explain. "Most social entrepreneurs want to be part of something that is bigger than their own business. I never thought I could be considered a peer to Ben and Jerry's or Patagonia. I'm a one-person company, but also part of the community right along with King Arthur Flour."

This camaraderie comes from sharing similar values as defined by the rigorous standards in the B Impact Assessment. But, it's also a tool any company can use, says Honeyman. At last year's B Corp retreat he was seated next to Ben and Jerry's team and the challenge of measuring the impact of their suppliers came up in discussion.

"I suggested they have their five biggest suppliers fill out the B Impact Assessment. This way they could see across their supply chain and see how they were doing in environmental and employee issues. Soon after the retreat, they hired me to work with these suppliers, including one of the largest chocolate companies in the world. And now, one of the largest chocolate companies in the world has taken the B Impact Assessment," said Honeyman.

B Corps represent a new era for business: an era of community, employee empowerment, transparency, accountability and vision. We are the generation who uses business as a tool to make money and to make the world a better place. We seek to "Be the Change."

Top image of B the Change logo via B Lab. This article first appeared at Just Means.

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