The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Strategic CSR - Food

Here are some highlights from the article in the url below, which makes the argument that reform of the food industry (and rejection of the current domination by agri-business) will take decades, rather than years:
“Nothing affects public health in the United States more than food. Gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year — nearly half of all deaths — and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases.”
“… our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.”
“We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system. It’s been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals… I could go on. … only by saving the earth can we save ourselves, and vice versa.”
“There is no consensus behind a program for achieving sustainable production of food that promotes rather than attacks health. We can’t ask for ‘better food for all’; we must be specific.”
“… when we begin treating sugar-sweetened beverages as we do tobacco, we will make a huge stride in improving our diet.”
This point in particular, I think, reveals how far we have to go as a society in generating a healthy food culture, even given our knowledge of the damage being done by the status quo:
“An association between tobacco and cancer was discovered more 200 years ago. The surgeon general’s report that identified smoking as a public health issue appeared in 1964. The food movement has not yet reached its 1964; there’s isn’t even a general acknowledgment of a problem in need of fixing.”
Happy Easter!
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Fixing Our Food Problem
By Mark Bittman
January 1, 2013
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Strategic CSR - Business Schools

The article in the url below announces the opening this year of a new business school (the “School of Business and Economics”) by the Catholic University of America. The School aims to implement a values-led curriculum, “infusing an education in strategy, accounting and marketing with instruction in morals, character and religious values”:
“Created in response to rising demand for business education, the program's virtues-based approach hinges on the idea that business is meant to foment social good and not just financial success; that's a departure from a traditional business education, which focuses mainly on how to maximize profits.”
More revealing is the over-arching relationship between business and society that the University says will underpin the education students receive:
“‘Business is supposed to be a service to society,’ says Andrew Abela, chair of the business and economics program, now housed in Catholic's School of Arts and Sciences and comprised mostly of undergraduate students.”
This approach becomes particularly interesting when you realize what it means for the content of specific classes:
“For example, accounting classes will stress judgment calls about what revenue can be kept off the books, along with the math behind those revenue calculations.”
Ultimately, why this approach is so revolutionary is that ethics/CSR is the starting point in the re-design of the business school. Rather than being an add-on or elective class that students can compartmentalize and then quickly forget after the semester ends, ethics and CSR are the common point of reference among all the classes the students will take:
“‘If it's just added on, it can just as easily be taken off when the student leaves,’ Mr. Abela says of existing ethics training.
Until we adopt that approach throughout mainstream business education, CSR (in terms of sustainable value creation) will continue to struggle to locate itself as the core function of the business.
Take care
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B-School Mixes Faith, Finance
By Melissa Korn
January 8, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final

Monday, March 25, 2013

Strategic CSR - Environment 2012

News story after news story and academic study after academic study confirm that the condition of the environment continues to worsen. The cumulative reaction of the global political class is a giant shrug of the shoulders. Of course, this would be funny if only our future wellbeing as a planet did not rely on something big being done and being done quickly:
“It’s hard to be too excited about what happened to the environment in 2012. Climate change is growing worse. With it comes more deadly and costly natural disasters. At global summit after global summit, politicians are unable to agree on any sort of framework that might help put the brakes on the major alterations humanity is making to the planet.”
In the face of this inaction, the article in the url below summarizes what Co.EXIST feels were the top 14 stories on the environment in 2012. The stories are a mix of maddening inaction, technological brilliance, and individual instances of human perseverance:
“There are glimmers of hope, however. New discoveries in renewable energy and recycling are making us less dependent on fuels and materials that require us to destroy the planet to continue developing. … Since we can’t seem to rely on our government, it’s time to instead put our hope in the engineers, designers, and scientists who are working diligently to find elegant solutions to keep us alive on this planet while still letting us take comfort in the amenities of modern life (and letting more and more people from the developing world have access to them, too).”
The overall lasting impression is positive in the face of what seems to be overwhelming odds created by inertia and intransigence. It is sad that such progressive action is considered exceptional for civilization (rather than the norm) and also that we have to drive ourselves to the edge of calamity to generate such responses:
“It may now be more about designing for resilience in the face of disaster than attempting to prevent the disaster from happening.”
Take care
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The Top 14 Environment Stories of 2012
By Morgan Clendaniel
December 31, 2012

Friday, March 22, 2013

Strategic CSR - Zappos

The article in the url below contains a great idea:
“Zappos implemented a ‘Wow’ recognition program designed to capture people in the act of doing the right thing. Any employee at any level who sees a colleague doing something special can award a ‘Wow,’ which includes a cash bonus of up to $50. Recipients are automatically eligible for a ‘Hero’ award.”
What a great way to recognize employee performance in a way that boosts morale across the board (rather than managers selecting individuals to be rewarded via some opaque process that can incite resentment among those employees not selected). The article also contains the following advice for firms seeking to encourage civility, both among employees and towards customers:

“Collegiality should be a consideration in every performance review, but many companies think only about outcomes and tend to overlook damaging behaviors. What behavior does your review system motivate? All too often we see organizations badly miss the mark. They want collaboration, but you’d never know it from their evaluation forms, which focus entirely on individual assessment, without a single measure of teamwork.”
From what I have read about the firm, Zappos has consistently excellent HR policies and a phenomenal approach to customer service (see Strategic CSR – Zappos). It looks like a great firm to work for and Amazon was smart to acquire it in 2009.
Have a great weekend.
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The Price of Incivility
By Christine Porath & Christine Pearson
January – February, 2013
Harvard Business Review

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Strategic CSR - Morning Star

Morning Star is probably one of the most important companies you have never heard of. They harvest tomatoes and turn them into products and ingredients used in foods all over the world. As well as process tomatoes, however, the firm’s operations also produce a lot of carbon dioxide:
“The Morning Star Company’s three plants in California emit roughly 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year — about the same amount as the Pacific Island nation of Palau — as they turn tomatoes into ketchup, spaghetti sauce and juice used by millions of consumers around the world. Beginning Jan. 1, under the terms of a groundbreaking California environmental law known as AB 32, Morning Star and 350 other companies statewide will begin paying for those emissions, which trap heat and contribute to global warming.”
The Californian legislation, Assembly Bill 32: Global Warming Solutions Act (, was passed in 2006, but came into effect on January 1. It commits California to reducing its carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and empowers the California Air Resources Board to find means of achieving that goal. One way is to begin charging firms for the carbon their processes emit into the atmosphere (the foundation for a statewide cap-and-trade scheme). While firms in California have had time to prepare for this, they are understandably concerned:
“About 600 facilities with hefty emissions are covered by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Oil refiners, electric utilities and cement makers, whose greenhouse-gas output totals in the millions of metric tons annually, are the biggest. But overall, dozens of industries are affected.”
The financial implications of the legislation for firms are not yet clear. For Morning Star, however, it is going to be a significant amount of money:
“The rules are relatively simple for producers like Morning Star. At the end of 2014, they must present state-issued allowances — one per metric ton of emissions — for the greenhouse gases they emitted in 2013. For the 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually by Morning Star’s three plants, the company is being awarded about 192,500 free allowances the first year; the company must buy the remainder on the open market. In the first allowance auction in November, the allowance price settled at $10.09 a ton, meaning in the first year Morning Star has to pay roughly $75,000 to cover its emissions. But over the next five years, the number of free allowances will decrease sharply to encourage further emissions cuts. At current rates, that means Morning Star will have to buy 100,000 allowances for both 2017 and 2018, by which time the prices may have doubled or tripled in an open market. The company estimates the law will cost it an extra $20 million over the next seven years.”
At present, Morning Star plans to pass those costs onto customers.
Take care
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Weighing Costs and Competition
By Felicity Barringer
December 25, 2012
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final

Monday, March 18, 2013

Strategic CSR - Code for America

The article in the url below reveals the power of the internet, as well as providing a way to reinstall faith in government. In particular, it discusses the idea of “Government 2.0,” which draws on “online power to tackle offline problems from city hall on up.” One nonprofit highlighted is Code for America:
“… a kind of Peace Corps for geeks. This Gov 2.0 standout handpicks a team of sprightly tech stars each year to give up their lives and jobs for 12 months, offer their services to local governments nationwide and bring the Web to the wide-eyed. This year there are 26 fellows for eight cities, and 550 have applied for the 25 to 30 spots next year. Average age: 28.”
Given the opportunity, these young programmers bring innovative approaches to solving long-standing social problems in fractions of the time that government agencies take to introduce solutions that are half as effective:
“CfA fellows have designed more than 35 apps, for everything from urban blight to school buses. In New Orleans, they coded a system to more accurately sort the backlog of properties for demolition. In Santa Cruz, Calif., they're streamlining the application process to open a business. The group runs an Accelerator for civic start-ups. Its work presses governments to make information more visible (530 data sets liberated) and helps communities to mobilize (write-a-thons with 2,500 people).”
Some of the solutions are simple and some more complex, but all seem to be effective and have broad applicability:
“In Boston, snowed-in fire hydrants were a safety hazard. So CfA coded a gamelike Web app inviting locals to adopt hydrants and keep them clear for firefighters. That app went viral: CfA adapted it for Honolulu's tsunami warning sirens (which require battery checks), Seattle's clogged storm drains and Chicago's snow-piled sidewalks.”
Part of the initiative’s secret is to treat the group as a start-up firm, rather than a government agency:
“Government spending on information technology in 2012 is set at $79.5 billion federally and $55.4 billion for state and local. Meanwhile, to complete one government project—estimated at two years and $2 million—it took a couple of CfA fellows just 2½ months. Here's the trick: CfA fellows are based in an airy warehouse in San Francisco. They bond with each other, not with local bigwigs. … Then, when they fan out to do five-week research residencies within city governments across the country, they act less like sufferers from Stockholm syndrome than a stealth team of computer-savvy SEALs.”
The innovation is bringing an open source mentality to local government:
“Opaque is out. Openness is the next generation's default setting when they're up against big problems. And their attitude isn't just easygoing; it gets results.”
Take care
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A Peace Corps for Civic-minded Geeks
By Holly Finn
August 25-26, 2012
The Wall Street Journal

Friday, March 15, 2013

Strategic CSR - Employees

Long term subscribers to this Newsletter will know that, on the whole, I do not put much stock in public opinion surveys, particularly when they are used to collect subjective, qualitative data, such as ethical consumption habits. That doesn’t mean they do not occasionally throw up some interesting facts, however:
“According to the study, 51 percent of human-resource managers reported that their organization has hired someone with a criminal record. The study included 2,298 U.S. hiring managers and human-resource professionals and was conducted between May 14 and June 4, 2012.”
The article in the url below discusses the barriers faced by job applicants with criminal records when searching for a job. In terms of tips of how to overcome those barriers; in addition to more obvious suggestions, such as be honest and transparent about your background (68% of respondents), the article also has other helpful hints, such as staying positive (46% of respondents), don’t apply for jobs where having a criminal record is a problem (31% of respondents), and, when all else fails:
“Consider joining the military -- 18 percent”
Have a good weekend
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Half of employers surveyed have hired someone with a criminal record
By Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer
October 1, 2012

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Strategic CSR - Adbusters

There is a conundrum at the heart of the sustainability project that I have not seen many people willingly address—our economic model based around consumption is what is leading to resource depletion; yet, if we reduced consumption significantly, our economies would be plunged into deep and prolonged recession:
“… because consumer spending accounts for [such a large component] of United States gross domestic product, an abrupt shift to nonconsumption would drive the already faltering economy to its knees.”
The article in the url below at least raises this conundrum in an in-depth profile of Kalle Lasn, the co-founder of Adbusters ( The organization ran a campaign ahead of Christmas with the tag line, “Buy Nothing Christmas, Rethink the Season.” The approach fits Adbusters’ revolutionary, anti-mainstream perspective that sees it taking on multinational companies with what is calls “subvertisements,” such as Absolute Vodka and Camel cigarettes, in the name of social progress. The Christmas campaign grew out of a similar campaign run to coincide with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is traditionally the busiest shopping day in the U.S.:
“Buy Nothing Day is the older sibling of Buy Nothing Christmas — an effort to extend one day of abstention to the entire holiday season. … Adbusters is asking demonstrators to storm Times Square, ‘the iconic center of global capitalism’ — and march around with ‘#BuyNothingXmas’ signs through New Year’s Day.”
Why does The New York Times care what Mr. Lasn says?
“Well, last year, a campaign prompted by Mr. Lasn and his magazine improbably caught fire. It was Occupy Wall Street. Adbusters gave Occupy its name and opening date and designed the poster with Occupy’s defining image: an elegant ballerina perched atop Wall Street’s raging bull while gas-masked figures loomed in the background. The poster contained this text: ‘What Is Our One Demand? #OccupyWallStreet. Sept. 17th. Bring Tent.’ A digital version went viral.”
Lasn’s values and goals are hard to argue with:
“… his belief that core economic values must shift from profit-making and expansion of the gross domestic product toward improvement of human health and protection of the planet.”
The challenge is to know how to get there without also discarding the progress (economic and social) that has been made since the industrial revolution. For Lasn, that is a false choice:
“Accomplishing that requires overturning economic orthodoxy and capitalism as we know it, he says. ‘We have to do this,’ he says. ‘With climate change, and the exhaustion of the planet’s resources. I believe the alternative is apocalypse.’”
Take care
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The War Against Too Much of Everything
By Jeff Sommer
December 23, 2012
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final

Monday, March 11, 2013

Strategic CSR - Ikea

The article in the url below reports on Ikea’s recent announcement that it intends its operations to be “forest positive” by 2020. This means that:
“… despite its continuing high demand for timber, it intends its business to have an overall positive effect on the world's forests. Integral to this approach is the commitment that it will be growing at least as many trees as it uses to make products by 2020.”
This commitment is part of a broader strategy, titled People and Planet Positive, that the firm announced in 2012:
“Not content with becoming one of our most ubiquitous brands, the company has announced its intention to become one of the world's most sustainable businesses as well. [In 2012] the company announced an ambitious new strategy … ; effectively a global sustainability roadmap, it sets out how the company will conduct its future business using a wide range of targets concerning renewable energy, recycling, waste management and ‘green’ product sourcing.”
This is important for no other reason than Ikea is now a very large, global company:
“Launched in 1943, the Swedish business has grown to become the world's biggest furniture company. In the last financial year, 655 million people flocked to its stores, of which it currently owns 298 in 26 countries.”
As the article’s headline indicates, however, there are a number of challenges that lay ahead and suggest that Ikea’s claim is aspirational as much as it is realistic. These challenges revolve around two key issues. The first issue is how the firm intends to become forest positive. The scale of this challenge is indicated by the amount of wood Ikea uses in a given year and the gap between this amount and the amount of certified wood currently available for any firm to use:
“Ikea is deeply indebted to wood. This year it used 13.56 million cubic metres of solid wood and wood-based board materials, not including paper and packaging, meaning Ikea alone uses almost 1% of all wood used commercially around the world. … However the company actually failed to meet is 2012 targets of 35% of all solid wood to be sourced from "preferred sources". Ikea says this was because of a significant shortage of [Forest Stewardship Council, FSC]-certified wood on the global markets.”
The second issue relates to the rest of the People and Planet Positive slogan. Although wood is a huge part of their business, even if they are able to meet their ambitious goals in this respect, there are many other aspects to becoming a socially responsible (positive impact) company than sourcing key raw materials sustainably. And, given the criticism the firm is facing for its operations in the Karelia forest in Russia by the activist group Protect the Forest, it is not clear that the little it is doing today reflects industry best-practices:
“Ikea has received public endorsements by groups such as WWF for its scaling up of its commitments to sustainable forestry practices. However, it has also been receiving less welcome attention from other environmental groups who are claiming that Ikea is willfully deceiving its customers and hiding behind a "flawed" certification system. … The company's claims that it is operating a responsible forestry management programme in Karelia are denied by Protect the Forest, who have launched a campaign to stop Ikea's operations in this part of north-western Russia.”
Given the controversy Ikea generated last Fall with its Saudi Arabia catalog, it needs to be careful that it isn’t accused of greenwashing instead of being heralded for the ambitious and progressive goals to which it is now committed.
Take care
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Ikea to go ‘forest positive’ – but serious challenges lie ahead
By Annie Kelly
December 14, 2012
The Guardian
Late Edition – Final

Friday, March 8, 2013

Strategic CSR - Barclays

I am unsure how seriously to take the article in the url below. It covers a recent announcement by Barclays Bank, which is trying to repair its reputation in the aftermath of the LIBOR interest rate fixing scandal last year:
“Barclays PLC's Chief Executive Antony Jenkins Thursday told staff they should uphold the company's new values or leave. … In a memorandum to employees, Mr. Jenkins said bonuses will now be based in part on how employees and business units uphold five values, rather than ‘just on what we deliver.’ ‘We must never again be in a position of rewarding people for making the bank money in a way which is unethical or inconsistent with our values,’ Mr. Jenkins said. … ‘There might be some who don't feel they can fully buy in to an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values,’ Mr. Jenkins said. ‘My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won't feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won't feel comfortable with you as colleagues.’”
Of course, the extent to which the company is serious about this will only be revealed over time. But, as an indication of genuine intent, it would be interesting to know how the bank intends to measure adherence to these values and how that will translate into each individual’s specific salary and/or bonus amount:
“The values are: respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship.”
Have a good weekend
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Barclays Tells Staff to Uphold New Values of Leave
By Margot Patrick
January 17, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Strategic CSR - GMOs

The article in the url below details an ironic situation. In last November’s election in the U.S., there was a ballot initiative in California (Proposition 37) that was designed to force food companies to disclose any GMO ingredients in a product on the product’s label. Food companies are not currently required to do this anywhere in the U.S.—unfortunately, the issue is a low priority for many consumers, and that was not promising to change any time soon in a country where it is estimated that “75 percent of grocery products contain a genetically modified ingredient.”
In an effort to defeat Prop 37, corporations spent “more than $40 million” on lobbying and advertising during the election campaign and, as a result, the proposition failed to win a majority of votes. Another victory for the corporate lobby, right? Except that it did not work out that way:
“Instead of quelling the demand for labeling, the defeat of the California measure has spawned a ballot initiative in Washington State and legislative proposals in Connecticut, Vermont, New Mexico and Missouri, and a swelling consumer boycott of some organic or ‘natural’ brands owned by major food companies. … [today, there are] roughly 20 states considering labeling requirements.”
Ultimately, the actions taken by the food companies converted a local issue that no one was paying attention to into a national issue that is being hotly-debated:
“‘They spent a lot of money, got a lot of bad press that propelled the issue into the national debate and alienated some of their customer base, as well as raising issues with some trading partners,’ said Mr. Benbrook, who does work on sustainable agriculture.”
Now, forced to backtrack, the companies have joined the discussion with a wide-range of stakeholders to work out a more effective solution:
Executives from PepsiCo, ConAgra and about 20 other major food companies, as well as Wal-Mart and advocacy groups that favor labeling, attended a meeting in January in Washington convened by the Meridian Institute, which organizes discussions of major issues.”
A strategic CSR perspective would have got them to this place a lot sooner and saved them $40 million in the process.
Take care
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Companies Weigh Federal Labels for Gene-Engineered Ingredients
By Stephanie Strom
February 1, 2013
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final