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Seed libraries dig in to protect their right to share

Published September 22, 2014
Seed libraries dig in to protect their right to share

In June, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture alerted the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg that its seed library was in violation of the Pennsylvania Seed Act of 2004. According to officials, the library would have to follow the prohibitively expensive procedures of large-scale commercial seed companies or offer only commercial seed. The first option is impractical and the second option would gut the exchange of its primary purpose to serve home gardeners who want to save and exchange their own seed.

The Sustainable Economies Law Center reported in a recent article on that the Pennsylvania law may apply only to commercial seed operations. Despite what may be an incorrect interpretation of the law, other states are considering adopting Pennsylvania's seed library protocol. This could kill a fast-growing U.S. seed library movement.

The upside to the crackdown is that in the weeks since, seed librarians from across the country have come together. As David King, founder of the Seed Library of Los Angeles, put it, "The phone lines and e-mails lines were burning up as the seed library community turned from shock and disbelief to mobilizing to protect their efforts."

The goal now is to direct that energy toward protecting seed libraries, a cornerstone in efforts to foster the genetic diversity of food and strengthen food security.

Fighting for the right to propagate

"This is something that is really important to a lot of communities," said Neil Thapar, staff attorney at SELC. "There's a lot of static energy that exists around saving seed libraries, growing seed libraries and how they relate to this idea of food sovereignty and seed sovereignty."

Thapar points out that this movement already has traction in some communities, especially as it relates to the anti-GMO movement, but that the situation in Pennsylvania has raised the profile of the importance of genetic diversity in food.

One goal for Shareable and SELC is to harness this energy by activating all the people who want to do something about it and need an avenue to do it. Working with Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library and the seed library community at large, they plan an advocacy campaign to protect seed libraries.

While much of the seed library activism is still in the planning stages, there is a wave of support from people including seed library organizers and patrons, biodiversity proponents, anti-GMO activists, community farmers and concerned citizens.

The challenge, at this point, is finding methods of informing people about the issues and developing ways for people to voice support of seed libraries. A key piece of the strategy is educating both the public and agricultural officials by making them aware of what seed libraries are, how they operate and the fact that they are not a threat to agriculture or seed quality on a large scale.

Credit: Tony & Wayne via Flickr

Seed libraries have deep roots

"There's a misunderstanding around what happens at the agricultural scale and what happens at the garden scale," said Rebecca Newburn, founder and co-coordinator of the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, among the first seed libraries in the U.S. "It's incredibly important to farmers that the seed is what it said it is and that it's of good quality. On that scale, the seed laws are very important and they protect the farmer and the community. On the small scale — neighbors who've been sharing seeds for 12,000 years — the laws aren't appropriate."

As it stands, states have different laws around seeds. The Recommended Uniform State Seed Law, created by the Association of American Seed Control Officials, is a model law that states can use if they choose. A possible solution to the legal gray area around seed libraries is if this law, or a federal law, clarified that seed regulations don't apply to seed libraries.

"We believe that seed libraries are free to operate without regulation," said Thapar. "What would be nice is if instead of relying on interpretation, we could actually put something in law that said seed libraries are exempt from these regulations."

Such a law also would define boundaries of what a seed library does and how it operates. This would allow seed libraries to rest assured that their activity is legal.

The seed library community already has a protocol used among itself. Newburn cautioned that a national protocol would have to allow for locally grown seeds, that there will be off-typing and there will not be germination testing at that scale.

"If the national protocol understands that our food security and the health of our communities relies upon locally grown food and varieties that work well in our climate," she said, "and they understand the value of locally grown seeds, then I can see some value in a national protocol. But there has to be an understanding that this has been done for thousands of years without protocol."

Credit: Swallowtail Garden SeedsAccording to Thapar, seed officials are not necessarily hostile to seed libraries. He said that once seed library activists can share information and understanding with officials, they might, in fact, find allies that support the seed library mission. He noted, however, that it will take national support.

"Providing a platform for people to show their support is going to be important," he said. "That's what SELC is looking to do so that the seed control officials ... will see that this is something that people want. If there's support for it, it will motivate either legislators or the seed control officials to take action."

There are numerous ways to support seed libraries. Here are seven actions you can take to join the movement.

1. Join your local seed library: If there is a seed library in your city or town, join it and learn how to save seeds. If there isn't one, King suggested learning how to save seeds and joining with other gardeners in your community to form a seed library. Find a seed library near you.

2. Stay informed: Much of the seed library activism is in the planning stages at this point, so it's important to stay up on the issues and current happenings. Good places to start are and "Setting the Record Straight on the Legality of Seed Libraries." You can also join the SELC mailing list and the Shareable mailing list to receive updates about the seed libraries movement in your inbox.

3. Help create the Seed Law Tool Shed: Seed laws and related information for each state are being collected in this Hackpad document created by SELC. An open resource, the Seed Law Tool Shed is being built by concerned citizens and seed library activists who want to learn more about seed laws and contribute to this valuable database. SELC invites people to contribute to the document.

4. Attend the National Seed Library Summit: An in-person forum for information sharing and solutions-thinking is the National Seed Library Summit. This year's took place Sept. 10 at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, Calif. The summit, now in its fourth year, is a gathering of seed library activists and supporters from around the country. It is an opportunity for seed librarians to meet, share best practices and learn about challenges and how other communities are solving problems. The summit is an unofficial part of the National Heirloom Expo and its location will be determined at the expo. It then will be posted on and the SLOLA blog. You can also ask for the location at the SLOLA booth at the expo. King said that a statement from the Seed Library Summit regarding the current seed libraries situation can be expected following the event.

5. Reach out to local officials: Contact your state's seed control official and ask them for an official letter clarifying that the state seed law does not apply to seed libraries. Then, post any response letter in the Seed Law Tool Shed. Find your state's seed control official.

6. Get involved with legislative campaigns: A petition to protect seed libraries from unnecessary regulation is in the works. When the opportunity to sign it, as well as get involved with legislative campaigns and possibly vote on seed library issues come around, do so, and encourage others to do so as well.

7. Educate your community: Start talking about the importance of seed libraries, biodiversity, locally adapted varieties, food security and community-level exchanges. The more people there are talking about these inter-connected issues, the better chance they have of finding allies and supporters, from the neighbor-level up to the regulatory level.

Planting the seeds of change

In 2010, there were just 12 seed libraries in the U.S. Now there are over 300. There's an incredible opportunity here for seed libraries to lead the way in educating communities about the importance of locally adapted varieties, food security, community-level sharing and more.

"What we're hoping to do is capitalize on this attention that seed libraries are getting and grow the movement," said Thapar. "It would be great to have a seed library in every city in the U.S."

Newburn sees this as an opportunity to help the public and agriculture officials understand the value of seed saving on a local scale, and the importance of biodiversity. "I'm hoping that out of this comes a greater understanding of the concerns we have about biodiversity ... and being able to provide food security for communities in a time of economic instability as well as climatic instability," she said. "I'm really hoping that it will inspire people to learn more about seeds."

She stresses that seeds are the basis of our food system and part of our cultural heritage. "Our food has always been a vital part of how we come together as a community," she said, "and seeds are at the core of that. We're hoping that through this, we'll all be able to reunite and reconnect with that awareness that we've lost."

Top image of cucumber by Dino Abatzidis via Flickr. This article first appeared at

Big Data, partnerships will foster tomorrow's sustainable cities

Published September 19, 2014
Tags: Cities, VERGE
Big Data, partnerships will foster tomorrow's sustainable cities

More than half the world population lives in cities, and global urbanization is expected to hit 60 percent by 2030. To put this into perspective, only 30 percent of the world population was urban in 1950. Yet we continue to live in the past, although times have changed. We face unprecedented environmental, social and economic challenges — modern problems that demand 21st century solutions.

If cities are our future, then what will they look like? Will they resemble some dystopian sci-fi flick, or will this new era of urbanism sire a new age of prosperity for the human race? The answer is simple, according to the business, government and academic leaders gathered Tuesday at VERGE Salon NY: It's up to us.

"We must pause, rethink and redirect our resources," said Jack Nyman, executive director of the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute in Zicklin School of Business, CUNY.

He called for a global paradigm shift regarding how we view and interact with planet. Planning tomorrow's cities can be a part of securing a brighter future — but we have a small window in which to act.

Decisive action calls for strong leadership, and today's leaders will make or break the success of tomorrow's cities. In recognition of this, forward-thinking cities are hiring new city executives such as chief resilience officers and chief information officers to wield Big Data to address climate, energy and resilience issues, all while improving city services. More cities are taking a page out of the private sector's playbook to address their needs, said Seth Schultz, director of research at C40. Namely, this means taking advantage of emerging information technologies to gather and analyze data.

Humans already have amassed more than 1.8 zetabites of information — the equivalent of the amount of information you could store on 57.5 billion iPads, Schultz pointed out. In the next few decades, this number is expected to reach the practically unintelligible number of 40 zetabites. The private sector already takes advantage of the tools to analyze and act on all of this data, which Facebook and Google users already know too well. However, many cities still keep much of their records in hard copy form, which makes it next to impossible to use. To resolve this, cities are beginning to hire chief information officers and teams of data scientists to digitize hard copy data and analyze it.

Taking collective action is a pervasive problem in most cities, as each department focuses on securing resources for its own projects with little eye for the "big picture." In theory, mayors are responsible for this, but they often are too limited by their short terms in office to think in the long-term. This is where chief resilience officers come in. Elizabeth Yee, vice president of platform strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities said her organization is helping cities hire chief resilience officers to act as the "mayor minus one," and work across all city departments to make sure they incorporate resilience into their programs. Resilience is not just about weathering storms and enduring earthquakes, Yee said — it is about taking a holistic approach to city planning. For example, cities should look more closely at where they place roads to consider their impacts on overall quality of life, not just from a transportation planning perspective. She agreed with Schultz in that Big Data can help chief resilience officers and other city leaders to plan more intelligently than ever before. Partnering with the private sector would go a long way to helping achieve this.

Largely because many of our cities suffer from poor planning, many of us fear hyperdensity and urban reordering. This poor planning stems from a lack of understanding of how cities work, according to Constantine Contokosta, deputy director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress. Again, taking advantage of data collection and analysis tools can help us to learn about cities so we can design better, more efficient ones. Ultimately, this is figuring out how people really work — not just building houses but creating communities in which people actually want to live.

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

But it's not just about making cities desirable — it's also about making them affordable. Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of CURE, illustrated this by discussing San Francisco — considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and desirable cities in the world but which is becoming increasingly unaffordable to anyone who does not code computer programs for a living. San Francisco is the perfect storm, Chakrabarti said, because it is an attractive city in an affluent economic region, but with severely constrained new housing policies. The solution for cities such as San Francisco is to allow for new housing to be built with a mix of high and low, old and new, brick and glass buildings in mind. Cities ought to be varied and have a certain level of unpredictability, Chakrabarti concluded.

The lack of heterogeneity and innovation in city planning stems much from the fact that most are based on an Ancient Roman paradigm, said Ed Clerico, CEO of Natural Systems Utilities. All roads may have led to Rome, but all sewers also led out of it. When it comes to infrastructure, this has led to a mindset of "just move it away" with resources coming in and waste being shipped out. But it is unsustainable to rely on this "out of sight, out of mind" mentality because the earth is a closed system, Clerico said. He advocated for more metabolic, distributed systems that treat waste, water and energy like trees. Not only is this more efficient, he said, but it allows for increased innovation.

Rob Watson, CEO and chief scientist of ECON Group, agreed that we need to rethink waste and stop pretending it's invisible. If we do, the waste system of the future will be leaner and more centralized — cheaper and smarter. We need to begin thinking of all waste as a resource in different stages of life. Cities can help spur private innovation to make this possible by establishing sustainability initiatives such as zero waste. This will help our systems become more resilient while also being more reliable, accessible and affordable for future generations.

Technology, government and the private sector may deserve much of the blame for causing the environmental, economic and social problems we now face, but they also happen to be our best hope for a better future. Companies can help governments to take advantage of technologies such as Big Data to build better communities; likewise, governments can implement the policies needed to stimulate private sector innovation.

What will the cities of tomorrow look like? It all depends on what we decide to do today.

City image by chungking via Shutterstock. All inline photos by Melanie Einzig.

Why higher education is a bright green market

Published September 19, 2014
Why higher education is a bright green market

Academia long has been in the vanguard of the sustainability movement. Although we cannot credit students alone for its origins, it is to their interest and enthusiasm that we can, at least in part, attribute the steady growth in environmental and sustainability curricula, degree programs and maybe even careers.

Today, academia is a veritable hotbed of sustainability. From student-driven water bottle reuse campaigns to institutional renewable energy projects, schools across the country are demonstrating an ever-greater commitment to sustainability.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education boasts more than 1,000 members, and more than 600 schools have registered to use its Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System. The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment has 684 signatories; 2,151 schools have submitted greenhouse gas inventories, and 533 have submitted climate action plans.

Even considering there are close to 4,500 colleges and universities in the U.S., these numbers are not insignificant, and they continue to grow.

Image and reputation help drive campus sustainability

So what is motivating school administrators to sign commitments and support sustainability efforts at their institutions? Certainly "because it's the right thing to do" comes into play, as does the solid business case for sustainability projects. However, institutional image turns out to be a practical motivator for schools to undertake sustainability initiatives.

Recent declines in college enrollments, particularly at private institutions, mean schools must compete for fewer students, so potential enrollees' perceptions of a particular school — including perceptions of its greenness — very well can play into their decision to attend. According to the Princeton Review (PDF), 61 percent of likely applicants say a school's commitment to sustainability would affect their decision to apply or attend. Supporting that point, Shelton Group's Eco Pulse 2014 study found that more than 60 percent of millennials believe climate change is occurring and is caused primarily by human activities, and nearly 75 percent actively seek greener products.

Colleges and universities compete not only for students and on the athletic field, but also for all manner of accolades, including myriad lists of Top (name your number) Schools for everything from landscaping to Fortune 500 alumni. Among these lists are the EPA Green Power Partnership's Top 30 College and University list, Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges and the Sierra Club's "Coolest Schools" list. Finding their institution on such lists gives administrators and alumni bragging rights and encourages donations. The way onto these lists is the active and public pursuit of energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainability initiatives.

All this points to academia being a ripe — and very large — market for all things sustainable. Colleges and universities spend many billions of dollars each year on a wide range of products, projects and services, many if not all of which have green options.

Green is an academic procurement priority

Today, more higher education procurement offices are operating with a mandate to prioritize green purchasing. A 2013 study (PDF) by the National Association of Educational Procurement and SciQuest found that 65 percent of survey respondents (procurement professionals in higher education) report green procurement as an official component of their campus's official sustainability plan (up from 62 percent in 2009); 47 percent report their departments are working under a formal green procurement policy — a number that has doubled during the past five years.

Paper products, general office supplies and equipment, janitorial supplies, appliances and computers most often were reported (more than 50 percent) as commodity focal points of green procurement; however, construction materials, renewable energy and local and organic food also were reported at respectable levels.

If your company provides green products or services, you would be well advised to make sure you're on the radar of educational procurement offices, and that you become noted as a green vendor in whatever procurement system they use. There are a plethora of such systems, some internal, some external, some sophisticated and some fairly basic. Many states, such as North Carolina and Maryland, have their own procurement systems, so if you want to do business with a state college or university or a community college, you'll need to register in the state system.

For some schools, you will have to be invited by someone at the school to register as a vendor, which may not happen until they actually want to make a purchase from you. If your reach is local, getting your foot in the door by establishing personal contact with the appropriate campus purchasing agents is probably the best approach. If you want to cast your net broadly, a direct mail intro to your company might be worthwhile. E-mail and snail mail lists of academic procurement and purchasing managers and directors are readily available for rental or purchase.

However you make contact, make sure your pitch highlights the green aspects of your products or services and try to cast it so you give the school a way to make your sustainability story part of theirs.

This article originally appeared at the Shelton Group blog. Chalkboard image by KuKanDo via Shutterstock.

Also in The Speaking Sustainably Blog:

How to remove barriers to corporate transparency

Published September 19, 2014
How to remove barriers to corporate transparency

Transparency is a key driver of corporate reputation, but it is also an area in which companies commonly underperform. There is increasing external and internal pressure on organizations to become more transparent, not only from customers and employees, but also from other stakeholders such as investors, media and regulators. Stakeholders need evidence that environmental and human rights risks are being systematically managed. But too much disclosure also can create risks.

In this edition of Proof Points, we examine some barriers to transparency and what solutions would best help companies drive change and improve their sustainability performance, according to stakeholders polled in the latest GlobeScan SustainAbility Survey of experts.

Trading trust for secrecy

Trust in business is in dramatic decline all over the world, perhaps a result of companies' failure to deliver on transparency in an era when personal and corporate secrets can be unraveled with a few lines of code or clicks of the mouse.

The results of our most recent wave of GlobeScan Radar public opinion research across 24 countries reveal that trust in specific companies is correlated more with a higher rating of the company's ability to be "open and honest" than with other factors, such as environmental protection or employee treatment. At the same time, the public also tends to rate companies the lowest on transparency, compared to the same list of performance attributes.

Barriers and drivers

One important aspect of corporate transparency is controversial and highly associated with a lack of public and stakeholder trust: sustainability. Seventy-nine percent of experts surveyed in July believe that corporate transparency positively affects a company's sustainability performance.

Companies attempting to become more transparent around their sustainability practices may encounter a number of barriers to doing so. Survey results show that poor data accuracy and a lack of focus on material issues are most seen as hindering transparency within organizations, among a list of 10 potential barriers. Comparability of data and a lack of mandatory transparency requirements also are considered key barriers.

So what can motivate companies to become more transparent around their sustainability practices? Stakeholders call on two key solutions to enable transparency to bring about greater progress toward sustainability within companies, both associated with requirements for sustainability reporting. From a list of 13 potential solutions, sustainability professionals see mandatory non-financial reporting requirements for all large companies and increased demand from investors for integrated reporting as the two most needed solutions to drive corporate transparency.

Stakeholders, particularly those in government, clearly would like to see companies be required to focus more on reporting beyond financial results. Increased interest from investors in the non-financial aspects of a company's performance also is needed to drive corporate transparency efforts in the future.

What should companies do to improve transparency?

In order to improve transparency and increase trust among demanding stakeholders — and in the long-term among the public at large — our survey results suggest that companies need to focus on the quality and the comparability of their data, and the need to improve non-financial reporting to meet both future regulatory and investor requirements.

However, gathering good data and writing a good report is only half the battle: It is equally important to focus on communications, engagement and organizational readiness. It is important to ensure that reports are shared with relevant stakeholders and that they act as conversation-starters. Companies also need to make sure that stakeholder-facing functions within the organization (Finance/IR, HR, Customer Relations) are properly trained and able to communicate the salient points within their reports to their stakeholders and the interested public.

Companies need to focus on the quality and comparability of their data and on reporting it, but never neglect what should happen after their reports are published.

GlobeScan and SustainAbility regularly survey influential thought leaders on sustainability in over ninety countries in the The GlobeScan / SustainAbility Surveys. Further findings from this survey will form part of SustainAbility's upcoming exploration of the role of transparency in driving performance, to be published in December 2014.

Top image of shoji screens by Takeshi Nishio via Shutterstock.

Also in The Proof Points Blog:

Author Christine Bader explains corporate idealism

By Eban Goodstein
Published September 19, 2014
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Tags: Corporate Governance, Social Responsibility
Author Christine Bader explains corporate idealism

After working for close to a decade for BP on projects in Indonesia and China, followed by a stint at the U.N., Christine Bader was ready to dive back into the multinational CSR work that she loved. And then the Deepwater Horizon disaster hit, exposing a very different BP. In response, Bader sat down and wrote "The Evolution of A Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil." In a review, The New York Times calls it "thought-provoking" and says, "If the book doesn't leave one convinced that every multinational has suddenly developed a guiding conscience, it does offer some encouragement that many are on the way."

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held Sept. 5 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe. The previous interview was with Jeana Wirtenberg, on her book "Building a Culture for Sustainability."

Bard MBA: Why did you write a book about corporate idealism?

Christine Bader: This is a story that needs to be told. I got really frustrated with the public conversation after every corporate disaster, whether Deepwater Horizon, the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh or even the financial crisis. The public conversation seemed to be, "Oh great, another example of why big business is evil and full of greedy people." Well, it isn't true, and if we believe that is the story, then it only leads us toward solutions that are aimed at getting the bad guys.

I wanted to reframe this conversation and focus on the people like me, people who are working deep inside the companies, far from the cameras, and try to understand even with the best intentions why do we fail and what do we need in order to succeed?

Bard MBA: Tell us how girl met oil.

Bader: I graduated from Yale with my MBA in 2000, and like many of your students and graduates I was totally idealistic and convinced that business could be a force for good in the world, and I could help make that happen. I joined BP because the company then was run by John Browne. He was the first head of a major energy company to acknowledge the realities of climate change and urge action, and he was equally outspoken and progressive on human rights. I thought, what an amazing opportunity to be on the inside of a big corporation that's really trying to transform its industry, and more broadly trying to transform the way that business is done.

I was supposed to be a commercial analyst crunching financial and production data to analyze the assets in BP's portfolio that it acquired through a merger, and there was one project in particular that was proving very interesting. It was a liquefied natural gas project in West Papua at the eastern tip of Indonesia, a big gas field that sat very close to the surface. There were lots of complexities from a social and human rights perspective: We were to relocate 127 households to make way for the plant, partner with the Indonesian military — not known for their good community relations — and work in an environment that had historically been neglected by the central government, so there was very little there in the way of infrastructure or social services. So the more that we looked at this project, the more than we realized that we needed to put some full-time bodies on these issues. And again, this was in the fall of 2000; corporate social responsibility wasn't nearly as ubiquitous as it is today.

Credit: BibliomotionI put my hand up and said I would love to focus on these issues full-time. Remember, this is my first job out of business school. I had the full support all the way up to the top of the company to spend money, to bring in experts to try to advise us on human rights, on how to do the resettlement to international standards, and everyone that I worked with inside BP, even the most hard-nosed engineers, seemed to understand how important human rights and community concerns were to the success of the business. So here I am going, "Big Oil is awesome!"

Bard MBA: And how did it go?

Bader: Obviously I did not transform the whole of BP. But I know I made a difference to those 127 households around the project in Indonesia and I know I made a difference to the tens of thousands of migrant workers and communities living around the petrochemicals project I worked on in China. That's not bad. I know it's not good enough, but that's not bad.

Having had my heart broken by Big Oil [after the Deepwater Horizon spill], I have actually come back around to believing that the business can be a force for good in the world — but I know it's not going to happen by accident. So I am no longer that girl who fell in love with Big Oil 15 years ago. But I am still a corporate idealist.

Bard MBA: In your book, you focus on some critical challenges facing corporate idealists.

Bader: First, no one gets rewarded for what doesn't happen and a lot of work that this corporate idealist community does — whether their title is in CSR, sustainability or ethics or compliance or procurement — is about preventing bad things from happening, and it's very difficult to reward for. One of the women I interviewed for my book works in supply chain for a very large multinational; she told me how livid she was when one of her company's internal awards, which are very prestigious, went to a colleague who managed a big safety disaster. She thought, "Are you kidding me?! I prevented 20 of those."

Second, like any big organization, big companies get siloed. Sustainability and human rights tend to cut across so many functions inside a company that things can fall through the cracks. The director of corporate citizenship at Microsoft told me, "I have a horizontal job in a vertical world."

Third, people lie. Factory owners lie not because they like exploiting people or want to put their workers at risk, but because they think that failing one audit is going to mean losing the contract. There are some brands that are moving towards longer-term relationships with suppliers to try to deepen their relationships and say, "Don't lie to us, just tell us if there's a problem and we will work together to fix it."

Finally, so few executives ever bear witness to the impacts of their decisions on the people and on the communities at the far reaches of their supply chains. The international labor standards team at Disney told me how their team was able to arrange for Disney's CFO to visit factories in China where Disney-branded products were made. They did that visit like they do all other visits — unannounced audits in a random selection of factories — and they saw some good ones and they saw some that were not so nice, and that trip has enabled the team to continue to get senior-level support for their work.

Bard MBA: So being a corporate idealist requires patience?

Bader: This was really the punchline for me. It was really what helped me reconcile my time at BP. We have to recognize that we are working on the thorniest issues at the heart of globalization and no one individual, or team, or even company can change these overnight, so a lot of this work is slow. But the people who I spoke with really inspired me with their faith that they were moving their big supertanker companies in the right direction.

I interviewed a former Gap employee who told me about visiting suppliers in India. At the end of the day the guy showing him around said, "Okay, I am going to take you to one more that is not on your list. It supplies the domestic market." They walked up a few stories in this residential high-rise, into this room, and he said it was filthy and there was a kid working one of the machines.

I asked him, "How did you feel when you saw that?" He said, "It actually was one of the moments when I felt like all the work that we had been doing trying to improve labor conditions in supply chains over the past 20 or 30 years made a difference. Because if the factories that we source from today looked like that 20 or 30 years ago, then I know we have made progress."

Top image of Christine Bader courtesy of the author. The full recording of this conversation is available. The Bard MBA's Sustainable Business Fridays conversation resumes Sept. 26, with Derek Handley, former head and now consultant to B-team.



Dunkin' Donuts: Time to trace the palm oil

By Jessica Shankleman
Published September 19, 2014
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Tags: Agriculture, Food & Agriculture, More... Agriculture, Food & Agriculture, Forestry, Restaurants
Dunkin' Donuts: Time to trace the palm oil

The company behind Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins ice cream has pledged to stop frying its doughnuts in unsustainable palm oil, which contributes to deforestation and destroys habitats of endangered species such as tigers and orangutans.

Dunkin Brands Group this week unveiled a commitment to use 100 percent sustainable palm oil at its United States stores. The company said that by the end of 2015 it will be able to trace all of the palm oil it buys back to the mill and by the following year will be able to trace it back to individual plantations.

During the next six months, the company will publish a plan for moving towards 100 percent sustainable palm oil, including a map of its international suppliers as part of a move towards greater transparency.

"Sourcing even limited amounts of palm oil irresponsibly can contribute to deforestation, loss of natural habitats and other environmental and human rights concerns," said Christine Riley Miller, senior director of corporate social responsibility for Dunkin' Brands, in a statement. "Therefore, Dunkin' Brands has created clear guidelines for our suppliers, and to ensure independent verification that our principles are being met, so that by 2016 we can meet our targets of sourcing only responsibly produced palm oil."

She added that the commitment was part of a wider drive by the company to find "sustainable business solutions that meet the needs of our guests and our franchisees, and that benefit our communities and the planet."

The move received a mixed response from environmental campaigners. Forest Heroes, welcomed the decision, and urged other doughnut companies such as Krispy Kreme to follow suit.

However, the Union of Concerned Scientists said the commitment did not go far enough as it would only apply to Dunkin's U.S. restaurants. "America might run on Dunkin', but the company needs to address the 59 other countries in which it operates, too," said Calen May Tobin of UCS.

"Dunkin' is clearly feeling the heat from American consumers, but their response is not quite what their consumers are demanding," Tobin explained. "The fast food sector is woefully behind other industries when it comes to sourcing sustainable palm oil. Dunkin' is taking this issue seriously and more fast food companies should follow in its footsteps. At the end of the day, though, this is literally a half-measure."

Top image of Dunkin' Donuts sign by Mike Mozart via Flickr. This article first appeared at BusinessGreen.



The Future MBA, week 11: Courses across cultures

By Giselle Weybrecht
Published September 19, 2014
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Tags: Academic, Buildings, More... Academic, Buildings, Business Models, Career Tools, Facilities, Leaders, Schools, Smarter Buildings, Social Responsibility, The Business Case
The Future MBA, week 11: Courses across cultures

For 100 days I am posting 100 ways that we could rethink and reimagine the MBA, to transform it into a tool for creating the sustainable leaders that our organizations and the planet need.

I’ll explore all aspects of the MBA, ranging from curriculum and research to partnerships and campus activities. Some ideas could be put into practice tomorrow while others would require a complete rethinking of the way we view the MBA.

This brainstorming of ideas is meant to encourage discussion, so please share your thoughts and comments and elaborate on the ideas you find the most interesting.

Day 71: Chief Opportunity Officer

Business Schools are so busy working on day-to-day issues that often there are not enough opportunities to stand back and look at the bigger picture. How can business schools ensure that they take advantage of and respond to opportunities and challenges presented by the outside business and non-business world around sustainability issues?

In the Future MBA, every school will have a Chief Opportunity Officer. They will be responsible for exploring these opportunities, so that the school can move forward both within and outside of the school. They will have a strong understanding of the work different faculty and researchers are doing on campus as well as the community, entrepreneurial and business environment surrounding the school to be able to make connections between these groups that will strengthen the school as a whole. They will work to identify and facilitate cross disciplinary opportunities and operate across the silos that exist within business schools to be able to explore ways for the school to learn, change, evolve and adapt to the changing world around it.

Day 72: Long Term Thinking

Increasingly much of business and business teaching is focused on short-term measures of value, often at the expense of long-term thinking that can create stronger and more sustainable organizations. How can we ensure that business school graduates put proper emphasis on long-term thinking and planning, and understand how to balance this with the medium and short term?

The Future MBA will have a course specifically focused on Long Term Thinking. This course will explore how to think and plan long term in a business environment that is increasingly focused on the short term. It will explore what long-term thinking and goals look like including visionary goals and how to plan these and eventually reach them. It will explore and encourage students to create new business models and products that focus and succeed based on long-term thinking. The course also will look at how to balance short-term expectations with long-term goals, and the different incentive structures present in terms of behaviors and organizational cultures that promote short-term thinking and what could be done to change these.

Day 73: Skill Sharing

Many students in the MBA say that they learn just as much from their peers as they do from the structured MBA program. How could an MBA facilitate more learning from peers as a way to develop a deeper and more personalized program?

The Future MBA will provide students, staff and faculty as well as alumni the opportunity to make a note in their profiles of a limited number of special skills they have that they are willing to share. This could be basic skills which are useful during the MBA such as how to create complex Excel spreadsheets, public speaking, budgeting, creating a website or time management. It could be more specialized expertise such as how to scale up business ideas, provide legal and tax advice or hiring employees. The skills could be around career options such as careers in consulting, finance or NGOs. The skills could even be non-business skills such as how to grow a vegetable garden, preparing for a baby or how to brew your own beer. In this way those in the school community who have a question about a particular topic or are interested in building their skill and knowledge base can approach specific individuals or group of individuals willing to share their expertise.

Day 74: Ph.D

In the same way that we need to strengthen the MBA to be able to create the next generation of sustainable managers and leaders that the world needs, even more important perhaps is the need to strengthen the Ph.D programs that create the next generation of professors and researchers that teach these students and support business schools.

The Ph.D program in the Future MBA will require candidates to take a range of courses and projects similar to those taken by MBA students, including a placement working in an organization focused on the topic of their research. Research will need to be based on and will be judged in part by its relevance and impact on the business world, both in the short and long term. They will be required to have both a good general knowledge and understanding of the business environment today as well as more specialized knowledge in a topic of their choosing. Ph.D students will be given training in teaching and communicating effectively and their teaching experience and abilities will be just as important in their graduation as their research. They also will be required to translate their research into language understandable and usable by a range of audiences and presented in nonacademic venues.

If we change the next generation of Ph.Ds, perhaps they in turn can tackle the challenges that are limiting our ability to really move forward in many ways. This in itself requires another 100 days/100 ideas.

Day 75: Global MBA

Future leaders need to have a global view, to enable them to understand and work across countries and cultures around the world. How do we ensure graduates have these skills?

Rather than be based at one school in one city, the Future MBA will take place across several locations around the world. Students will start in one location and every term throughout the degree they will move around to a different city around the world. By the end of the degree they will have spent time on all continents — North America, South America, Europe, Africa and across Asia and Oceania. In each location, students will take a range of foundation and additional courses that will introduce them to business realities in that region. Students also will visit and work with local businesses and organizations in each location. This will give students exposure not just to different business environments but also different customs and cultures.

Day 76: Living

How do you facilitate connections between students from a variety of disciplines at a different level than what is happening during classes?

The Future MBA will have a special university residence where students can live. The building would be self-sufficient and use all the latest green building technologies including the use of small community gardens at the ground level and on the roof. A variety of types of living accommodation would be available from dorm style to more private suites for singles, couples or even families. The rooms will be organized in a way that will allow the spaces to be reconfigured and shifted based on needs and changing circumstances. The residents would be students as well as a handful of recent alumni and would be a mix of both business students as well as students from other disciplines. Mixed throughout would be a range of large common areas set up to encourage the sharing of ideas and collaboration on projects. These projects could be related to the residence themselves or starting new businesses including a resource space with access to advisors 24 hours a day.

Day 77: Working on Campus

How do you strengthen every part of the school while also getting students more engaged and giving them a range of unique experiences and viewpoints they likely will not get during their careers, while also keeping them humble?

In the Future MBA, every student admitted with be allocated a job on campus. These jobs are randomly distributed and are not based on the student’s strengths, background or skills, but more likely some of their weaknesses. The jobs could be working on the school's transportation strategy, coordinating the cleaning of meeting rooms, serving coffee in the café on campus or coordinating the ordering of textbooks at the campus bookstore. The jobs will rotate during the school year or students can stay in the same job if they desire.

The jobs will expose students to some of the inner workings of the school, let them as a class be more accountable for the environment around them and give them the opportunity to leave a mark. They will have a chance to innovate, to learn new skills, to collaborate and to use the school itself as a sort of a test lab for new ideas.

Top image of Congres-hall at the Moscow School of Management by Pavel L Photo and Video via Shutterstock.

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What the sharing economy can learn from fleets

By Mira Inbar
Published September 18, 2014
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Tags: Energy Efficiency
What the sharing economy can learn from fleets

Leaders of the sharing economy are disrupting traditional industries such as transportation and hospitality, but what if they played an equally disruptive role in reducing our consumption of natural resources such as water and gas?

Unlocking access to underused resources is the most powerful value proposition of the sharing economy. Sustainability is the inherent foundation of its model, when you consider the use efficiency afforded through the sharing of cars and spare rooms. Yet, sharing apps are not realizing their potential right now.

Earlier this month Uber and Lyft launched car-share programs to allow guests to pool rides, saving money and gas, while Airbnb released a report last month claiming that their guests consume 63 percent less energy and save “the equivalent of 270 Olympic-sized pools of water” compared to hotel guests. I would argue that those efforts and outcomes are only hinting at what's possible. Because of their large captive pools of drivers and hosts, sharing apps can play a much more significant role in driving sustainability. To get there, they can look to some of the world's largest fleets.

Use data analytics to optimize performance and educate users

For example, UPS used 1.3 million gallons less fuel in 2012 than the year prior, in large part by using efficient routing systems and incentivizing drivers to change behavior.

Miles driven is a key performance metric for UPS — the fleet is assessed by “number of packages delivered per mile driven.” The company has pushed telematics in trucks to optimize routes to reduce idling time at stoplights, and to help drivers avoid traffic to reach destinations faster. The company found that avoiding left-hand turns reduces fuel and saves drivers time, so they rerouted drivers for right-hand turns. As a result of implementing the program, UPS trucks drive 12.1 million fewer miles, reducing carbon emissions by 13,000 metric tons.

UPS’s telematics platform also provides drivers with feedback in real time on their fuel-efficiency performance and suggests methods for improvement. This platform helped drivers reduce the average time spent idling per driver per day from 122 minutes in 2011 to 48 minutes in 2012, saving the fleet 250,000 gallons of fuel and 2,600 metric tons of carbon emissions.

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are no strangers to data science. Recently, Uber’s science team simulated a city and found that taxi drivers make twice as much money when parked between trips as those who drive around searching for passengers. However, drivers get around using either their own GPS or a standard mapping app such as Google Maps. They are not routed for the least fuel consumptive route. And they do not receive feedback on their fuel efficiency performance or suggestions for improvement.

Data is already collected from GPS systems on driver speed and routes. Sharing companies could provide real-time feedback to their drivers to help them understand their driving behavior and ways to save gas. Additionally, sharing companies can partner with mapping apps to provide drivers with an option for the “least fuel consumptive route.”

For its part, Airbnb says that 95 percent of its North American hosts recycle and the company has a green blog. However, the company does not survey hosts on energy efficiency measures nor push tips on how to improve energy efficiency.

Because of its great relationship with its hosts, the site is in a good position to provide practical tips for reducing energy consumption and to connect homeowners with resources to retrofit their homes. Additionally, energy data already is collected from utility partners such as Opower and in-home systems such as Nest. Airbnb could figure out a partnership strategy with data companies to push meaningful information to its hosts.

Recognize and reward good practice

Coca-Cola, AT&T and FedEx have driver training programs that aim to reduce fuel consumption in their fleets. They also reward drivers with recognition, special privileges and sometimes money for changing behavior. For Coca-Cola, a secondary outcome of improved driver behavior has been a major reduction in road accidents.

Polk County, Fla. (home to the city of Lakeland) splits the fuel savings with county fleet drivers on a 50-50 basis. The potential payout for some drivers exceeds $300. In the first two years since implementation, the county reduced fuel consumption by 436,000 gallons, avoided 22 percent of preventable accidents, and saved $1.5 million in fuel costs.

Incentives already are implemented in the sharing economy. Uber recently lifted financing hurdles for drivers to buy cars, improving rates on monthly payments. This is leading to more Uber drivers buying new cars. However, no incentives exist for drivers to buy fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrids.

Uber also could reward its drivers with a small rebate if they inflate their tires regularly (this small measure alone saves tons of gas) or a “digital badge” on the app if they drive a hybrid or electric car. Riders then would opt to choose a driver with this badge over another.

The same is true for Airbnb. Hosts could be ranked with a special certification if they host in energy-efficient homes. Airbnb could incentivize them with a monetary reward or feature if they follow basic tips to weatherize their homes and reduce their electricity consumption.

Every little bit counts. If the Sharing Economy can step up its game by applying the lessons of fleets, it has the potential to disrupt not only our traditional business models, but our energy system. And that is game changing.

Top image by Atomic Taco via Flickr.



BASF evaluates sustainability of portfolio via new process

By Stephen Kennett
Published September 18, 2014
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Tags: Measuring, Reporting, & Verification
BASF evaluates sustainability of portfolio via new process

BASF has developed a new process for evaluating its product portfolio based on sustainability criteria.

In a move that it says will better help its customers align environmental and societal aspects with business success, the chemicals giant has created "The Sustainable Solution Steering" method to systematically review and evaluate products.

Over the past three years, BASF has used the externally validated process to analyze more than 80 percent of its portfolio of around 50,000 specific product applications and aims to have all products assessed by the end of the year.

The data show, for example, how a product contributes to cost effectiveness and resource conservation as well as to health and safety. The sustainability requirements of various customer industries are taken into account as well as regional differences. The process also determines the extent to which BASF solutions can accommodate these needs.

Based on the results to date, the analyzed product applications have been sorted into four categories:

1. Accelerators make a substantial contribution in the value chain to sustainability. Twenty-two percent of the analyzed products by sales are in this category.

2. Performers are solutions that meet the standard market requirements for sustainability. Around 73 percent fall under this category.

3. For the Transitioners, specific sustainability issues have been identified and concrete action plans defined. These recommendations are in the process of being implemented. Around 4.5 percent of the analyzed products are currently in this category.

4. Applications with a significant sustainability concern are labeled Challenged. BASF is developing action plans for these products in order to find improved solutions. This currently applies to 0.5 percent.

BASF says Sustainable Solution Steering aims to increase the number of “Accelerator” solutions in the long term.

“It is becoming increasingly important to our customers to be able to combine economic, environmental and societal demands," said Kurt Bock, chairman of BASF's board of executive directors.

"We see this development as a business opportunity for BASF, and intend to seize it in a targeted manner. This approach forms an integral part of our corporate purpose: ‘We create chemistry for a sustainable future.’ By analyzing our entire portfolio with respect to sustainability and systematically expanding on especially sustainable solutions, we underscore this endeavor.”

This article originally appeared at 2degrees and is reprinted with permission. Top photo of feedback concept by Olivier Le Moal via Shutterstock



Hacking the way to 7 stages of eco-innovation

By Anna Clark
Published September 18, 2014
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Tags: Gamification, Innovation, More... Gamification, Innovation, Waste Reduction & Recycling, Water Efficiency & Conservation
Hacking the way to 7 stages of eco-innovation

Eco-innovation is the practice of developing and shaping ideas into useful forms to create business value and benefit the environment at the same time. Eco-innovating with apps also bolsters brand awareness, engagement and optimization.

Modeled after successful eco-friendly app development programs in New York City and San Diego, the NTx Apps Challenge generates software-based solutions to make North Texas more livable and sustainable. The three-month app development competition — the first of its scale in Texas — covers five major verticals: water, waste, energy, transportation and the Internet of Things.

In this techy subculture, I discovered a gateway to unraveling the mysterious process of innovation. Here are some insights gleaned from project managers, developers and marketers into the universal method by which teams bring great ideas to life.

Ideation through collaboration

The NTx Apps Challenge is an iteration of the maker movement, a cultural phenomenon in which consumers become problem solvers by using their own hands, tools and technologies. Charlie Lindahl, a Houston-based systems analyst I met at a recent sustainability summit, first introduced me to makers. Soon I, too, was experiencing the joy of DIY.

Making is more fun when you connect with others working on the same goal. In fact, teamwork and esprit de corps are essential to the creative process. Whether in an organized community or a spontaneous jam session, collaboration inevitably reveals facets of a problem not visible through one person's perspective, no matter how evolved it may be.

"A good interdisciplinary group can do anything," said Lindahl. "You'll be out of the box so fast it'll make your head spin. There's nothing more powerful."

I saw this in action at the first hackathon for the NTx Apps Challenge, a joint venture of the Cleanweb Initiative and the North Texas Commission. Some developers were sitting alone, pursuing their projects independently. However, in one corner sat the "Water Wars" team, an animated group surrounded by lists and sketches on poster-sized Post-its. Kim Hall, a CPA volunteering her time to manage two projects, was leading the brainstorming.

When I spoke to Hall later, she explained, "You sit down and talk, you facilitate, and then good ideas start coming. From a high level everyone is in agreement, but then it comes down to how to execute. This is where it gets much harder. We got down the path, but then we had to pivot. This happened over and over."

Pivoting is normal, if not essential, to innovation. After going through the cycle a few times, they settled on creating an online gaming platform where teams compete to save water. Hall presented the concept to a focus group of high schoolers who loved the idea.

However, there are hurdles in terms of development. In Hall's experience, only 10 to 15 percent of developers in these challenges seem to be looking for teams. Most developers come to the table with their own products, preferences, bandwidth issues and IP concerns. But in this dearth of developers, Hall also saw a new opportunity.

"My response to this is I am going to learn to code," said Hall. "I've spent the last 2 months on Khan Academy and I have my Gemalto board all set up. I'm ready." For a CPA, this is quite a pivot.

"I should have started this years ago," said Hall. "It's not enough anymore just to have the idea. You have to be able to execute."

Apps and apple cores: Automating organic compost

Armed with an MIS degree from University of North Texas, Andrew Miller has been channeling his technical skills toward online communities since grad school. He sees app development as a means to an end, which is nothing short of sustainable transformation.

Andrew Miller's app is an important part of Compost Denton's business."IT can only take the solution so far," said Miller. "Eventually you need to touch a material with your hands. Sustainability has to become physical."

Miller has been focusing on this problem for over a year, when he began to zero in on the local food community of Denton (home to UNT).

"Composting is not easy, but it is feasible," said Miller. "It doesn't take that much training to get composting right. It's low-hanging fruit."

Miller's friend Amanda Austin, urban farmer and owner of Cardo's Farm Project, affirmed the idea. Support from a credible and informed colleague encouraged Miller further in this direction.

In July 2013, he launched a p2p Web application pilot for diverting organic debris from the landfill to the compost heap. From conversations with users, he found they liked the idea but weren't actually composting. Translating interest into behavior change became his next goal.

Miller wanted to create a peer-to-peer compost map with which communities could self-organize around composting. Meanwhile, his friend Thomas Wild was using Miller's app for his own composting pick-up service. Miller had some choices to make: He could keep going on his own or team up with Wild. They decided to join forces.

Their pilot program lasted four months, during which time they sent a survey to their members (12 individuals and three businesses). They looked at the logistics of the pilot program to determine which decisions could be automated.

Miller presented their pilot program (then called Feed Denton Compost Exchange) and a proposed smart design for composting in Berlin at iConference 2014. The member feedback plus the recognition from Microsoft gave him the confidence to move forward with developing the app.

From automation to transformation

Miller's app Community Compost exemplifies eco-innovation, in that it performs an eco-friendly service while also supporting business management functions such as user management, user creation, process optimization, e-commerce, waste diversion monitoring and location searching.

Kenneth Lowe, director of business development for Gemalto, speaks at the NTx hackathon. Gemalto's M2M (machine-to-machine) platform is popular among app developers."Some other functionality we are working on is data visualization of the waste collected during pick-ups," said Miller. "We want to show data on a map to stimulate a sense of community, teamwork — maybe some healthy competition."

"We can also gamify by creating a member leaders board to link in with local businesses to spur sustainable behavior."

Miller doesn't know if they'll get to that part in time for the Challenge, but he knows they need to incorporate monitoring of the compost pile, Ph level, moisture, temperature and other variables.

"Those figures can tell us the health and activity of our composting and warn of potential fire risks, a serious issue when you start up large composting piles like we're doing."

That's the technical evolution of their story, but there's also the team one.

"For startup weekend in Denton last March, we got together a team of eight and earned third place," said Miller. "Gavin [Coelho] and Kory [Brown] stuck. They've proven to be extremely sharp, dedicated guys. We're all friends."

Miller has big plans. He anticipates that other businesses and municipalities might be able to use a customized version of Community Compost.

"Hypothetically, if a business like Compost Denton were well-established and the residents and businesses were separating our waste in an organized fashion, we could be decreasing our organic landfill waste by 40 percent while creating nutrient-rich soil," said Miller, citing figures based on waste stream data collected from the city of Dallas.

NTx Apps Challenge participants vary considerably on their skill level, intrinsic motivation and stage of development. But there is one great enticement to eco-innovation: cash. Participants have until Oct. 6 to submit their apps for a chance to earn a share of the $80,000 in prizes to continue development.

Seven stages to eco-innovation

Contestants in the NTx Apps Challenge may be working to solve specific environmental challenges, but the innovation process they're demonstrating is universal. Here are some key takeaways from each stage.

1. Ideation. Brainstorming is best when it's interdisciplinary. At Apple, for example, the role of the designer is as important as the engineers, marketer and programmers. This is one thing that Steve Jobs understood very well.

2. Collaboration. Even naturally self-propelling innovators still benefit from the support, knowledge, tools, skills and code that their mates bring to the table. It takes a village to turn a concept into reality.

3. Education. A good idea is not enough. You have to be able to execute. Skills development for individuals, training for teams and research to continually inform the process are vital for success. Stop learning, and you will stall out.

4. Automation. Automation is a likely outcome of an innovation process, but tools that automate are also valuable inputs. Makers and hackers rely on platforms such as Gemalto M2M and Arduino to help them create.

5. Gamification. To make behavior change go mainstream, it has to become fun. The Disrupt SF 2014 Hackathon winner Shower with Friends sounds like going green with benefits, but it's not what you may think. The app makes a game of water conservation by allowing users to compare theirs with that of their friends. (Watch Jane McGonigal's TED talk Gaming can make a better world for more ideas.)

6. Proliferation. According to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, when the rate of adoption hits 16 percent, innovations can go mainstream. Achieving scale is the holy grail for winners, but even "losing" teams of eco-innovators spark friendships and partnerships that positively can affect their communities.

7. Transformation. The apps coming out of these challenges have the potential to harvest and channel big data to change practices at a systemic level. Innovators can influence transformation one product at a time — and as Jobs showed, the potential impact can extend as far as their vision will take them.

Top image of NTX App Challenge Hackathon by Powell Kinney.

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