Harnessing the Power of the Supply Chain by Engaging Stakeholders

By Bill Shireman, President and CEO, and Rebecca Foges, Senior Manager, Stakeholder Engagement – The Future 500

As the largest concentrated buyer of products and services on the planet, the retail sector has more impact than almost any other institution. The sector’s leaders want to be responsible corporate citizens. RILA member companies have had positive, even transformative, impacts on responsible forestry, agriculture, mining, energy development, animal treatment, fisheries protection, and in other areas.

Yet nonprofits and retailers often find themselves at odds, leading to unreasonable demands, expensive regulation, and intractable conflicts that can last for years.

One of the most effective ways to avoid conflict and advance sustainability is by engaging stakeholders on supply chains issues. Driving environmental or social improvements through supply chains often leads to much faster and more significant outcomes on the ground compared to legislation and regulation. Such industry action harnesses the free market to benefit environmental and social sustainability, usuallyat lower cost than regulatory prescription.

In the 17 years we have been brokering agreements between major retailers and nonprofits, most of the conflicts Future 500 has resolved could have been avoided entirely, if the parties had engaged beforehand. Years could have been saved, brands protected, and effective solutions advanced.

For example, it took five years of battles between Rainforest Action Network and Mitsubishi, before we were able to bring the parties together. But once their agreement was signed, the procurement preferences adopted triggered changes in 400 companies including Home Depot and Lowe’s, and subsequently helped shift the entire North American forestry market to more sustainable practices.

To avoid conflict and smooth the path to sustainable practices, it may be time for a retail industry stakeholder alliance to enable RILA members to engage proactively with selected nonprofits, and harness their ability to drive gradual change across the supply chain. By being proactive, retailers can improve their relationships with nonprofits, and even with more activist corporate campaigners, who are less inclined to target companies they believe are genuinely committed to continuous improvement.

Through discussion and dialogue, the sector can avoid potentially costly conflict, and help promote understanding and shape collaboration between advocates and the sector.In addition, if nonprofits see that retailers are genuinely pushing for sustainability improvements throughout their supply chains, they are less likely to lobby for government regulations that force the sector to act.

Bill Shireman and Rebecca Foges are with Future 500, a non-profit that serves as a bridge between major companies and nonprofits. Future 500 brings together corporate and nonprofit stakeholders, to drive cost-effective solutions to problems of climate and energy, water and agriculture, product stewardship, human rights and transparency.

Google policy update sparks debate

Google’s new privacy policy—intended to answer concerns about the Internet giant’s efforts to protect users—has triggered a new round of debate from users and governments about the sharing of data. Google claims that it has revised its privacy policy, combining more than 60 policies into one, in order to clarify and make standards more accessible for users.

Previously, Google was criticized “for inadvertently revealing users’ most e-mailed contacts to other participants through the Buzz platform,” the company’s first attempt with social networking.

Attorneys from 36 states sent a letter to Google, expressing concern “over Google’s plan to share personal information across its products,” but mainly worried that user information would be collected and turned over to advertisers.

“We’re rolling out a new main privacy policy that covers the majority of our products and explains what information we collect, and how we use it in a more readable way,” said Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering.

The new update “will apply to Google search, Gmail, YouTube and Google+, its social networking site,” mainly for those who have Google accounts. Google states that “the new policy will give people more relevant search results and help advertisers find customers.”

In an explanation of the changes, Google said, “If you’re signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries, or tailor your search results, based on the interests you’ve expressed in Google+, Gmail and YouTube.”

In response, the White House said that “Internet users should have the right to limit the context in which information was collected, should be allowed to correct information and should have the right to transparency in privacy policies.”

President Obama has outlined a “consumer privacy bill of rights,” and Google, Facebook, and other similar companies “have signed on to develop guidelines based on the “bill of rights”, enforceable by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).”

“American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” President Obama said. “As the internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy.”

Executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg, called the announcement “the clearest articulation of the right to privacy by a US president in history.” However, he also said there were “real concerns about implementation and enforcement.”

“The real question is how much influence companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook will have in their inevitable attempt to water down the rules that are implemented and render them essentially meaningless,” said John Simpson, who works on privacy issues for Consumer Watchdog.

Though “privacy advocates will be involved with the development of the new guidelines,” some are still “concerned about the firms’ ability to self-regulate.”

The firms’ ad networks announced that “they would support a “Do Not Track” browser option,” an option advocated by the US since 2010. The option allows users to prevent information gathered while browsing the web from subsequently being passed on to any third party.

In cases settled in 2011, both Facebook and Google faced privacy complaints with action taken against them by the FTC. As US legislators argue over stopping online tracking, or at least slowing it down, not much has been done to fix the issue. Guidelines developed by US officials in cooperation “with the Internet firms would be enforceable by the FTC once agreed on, but would not necessarily apply to companies that did not sign on.”

Outside the US, the European Commission “recently set out plans for new pan-European data protection rules,” and the French regulator, Commission Nationale de L’informatique et Des Libertes (CNIL), claimed that Google’s new policy “raises deep concerns,” failing “to meet the needs of the European Data Protection Directive.”

The Article 29 Working Party is an advisory board comprised of “representatives from all EU data protection authorities.” The board recently looked into Google’s new privacy policy after concerns were raised in early February. The EU urged for a “pause” to give them time to analyze the changes.

“The CNIL and the EU data protection authorities regret that Google did not accept to delay the application of this new policy which raises legitimate concerns about the protection of the personal data of European citizens,” it said.

The French regulator added it was “deeply concerned about the combination of data across services and will continue their investigations with Google’s representatives.”

But Google said that it had discussed the “latest changes to its privacy policy” with the regulators.

The changes, now in effect, apply globally, and Google has a simpler explanation on its main website for users, as well as what is in its new policy.

Congressman Issa Wants the Public to See Inside ACTA

It took about 48 hours before the ememies of internet freedom moved from the American front post SOPA, to the European front looking for a way into cyberspace. Thankfully Europe (interestingly lead by former Soviet Bloc countries) was awake and has provided resistance to ACTA esentially the EU version of SOPA. Bit it still lives.

Congressman Darryl Issa was key in killing SOPA earlier this year. He is again raising awareness in the tech community around this anti-speech treaty. he wants the public to see what is in ACTA.

(From VentureBeat.com)

“No Transparency: ACTA is a multilateral intellectual property agreement that was negotiated in secret, excluding American taxpayers and key stakeholders who would be impacted by it. Despite the fact that ACTA has huge implications for the public, until now few steps have been taken to give the public input into this process.

Circumvents Congress & the Constitution: While ACTA carries several provisions that directly affect U.S. trade and intellectual property law, the Bush and Obama Administrations appear to have violated Congress’ constitutional authority over policymaking in these areas. Adding insult to constitutional injury, the Administration refuses to even classify ACTA as a treaty, which would then require ratification by the U.S. Senate. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) raised these troubling issues in an October 12, 2011 letter to President Obama.”

Click here for the story.

Japan a leader in global plastic recycling

Japan has been one of the top leaders in the world over the past 10 years when it comes to recycling plastics. In 2010, 77 percent of plastic waste was recycled, a gain of 4 percent from 2006, putting Japan far ahead the United Kingdom’s 38 percent and a 20 percent recycling rate for the United States, according to data from the country’s Plastic Waste Management Institute (PWMI). Japan’s experience may hold vital lessons for other countries and industries struggling to meet stakeholder demands for broad recycling programs.

In 1997, Japan passed several recycling laws obliging both businesses and individuals to separate plastic waste. A lack of landfill space has been a major drive for the country to put these laws into effect as the country’s large population (127 million) continues to expand within its increasingly crowded urban areas.

PWMI reported that in 2006, “Japan recycled 2.1 million tons of plastic waste, while 4.8 million tons undergoes so-called ‘thermal recycling’, which includes conversion into useful chemicals and burning to generate energy.”

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles have to be separated from other plastic wraps and containers in most households, and the PET bottle must have its label removed and discarded before it is recycled. In 2010, 72 percent of PET bottles were recycled in Japan, compared to 29 percent in the US and 48 percent in Europe.

Japan uses the recycled materials in “textiles, sheeting, industrial materials and household items” like egg boxes. Japan also exports significant amounts of recycled plastics to China, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia, where the waste is refabricated for use in toys and games.

“Japan has been able to make progress in plastic recycling because waste-processing agencies have won the support of manufacturers,” Takushi Kamiya said, a PWMI spokesman.

“We are looking at ways to deal with what’s left over, but it’s difficult to imagine at this stage that we’ll get the recycling rate to 100%,” he said. “But I think we do very well compared with other countries.”

Kevin Carroll, the representative director of EA International, explains part of the issue with Japan’s substantial plastic waste.

“Japan differs from other countries in that it tends to overwrap,” he said. “You buy a bento boxed lunch and it comes in a plastic box with a lid, and then it’s put into a plastic bag. Lots of other foodstuffs are the same.

“There’s a tremendous amount of plastic around. The real problem is with household plastic, a lot of which gets burned or buried. The amounts involved are phenomenal.”

Japan has gone to great lengths to ensure recycling happens, working to involve everyone from manufacturers to consumers through legislation like the Home Appliance Law. It has also sparked the creation of innovative companies. Food company Ajinomoto, for example, has revealed a plastic bottle made entirely from recycled PET, which it anticipates using 4,500 tons of in its drink bottles annually.

In Yashiro, resource recovery plant Panasonic Eco Technology Center (PETEC) recycles air conditioning units, washing machines, refrigerators and television sets daily. Beginning operations in 2001, PETEC has recycled more than 1.4 billion appliances, “producing enough materials to manufacture 95 jumbo jets, the equivalent of 81 of the Great Buddha statue at Nara and 158,000 cars from reclaimed aluminium [sic], copper and steel.” PETEC has a system to also capture noxious gases, and recover resins such as polypropylene and polystyrene.

When a consumer drops off used appliances they have to pay a small recycling fee and purchase a ticket that shows collectors the fee has been paid.

Product managers and engineers who work for the manufacturers that build the appliances visit PETEC regularly “so they can pick apart the very products they design,” thereby finding flaws in their designs and creating better products that potentially create less waste. As an example, “on a line of air conditioning units, product designers realized that if they laser printed the company logo instead of embedding and pasting a small tablet sized piece of plastic, the recycling rates of such components would increase dramatically.”

PETEC holds an 85 percent recycling rate and receives approximately a 10 percent ROI. The company believes their efforts are a prime example of ways to create new revenue opportunities while working to minimize the impact of appliances and consumer purchasing on the environment.

Hundreds of millions tons of consumer electronics and home appliances are discarded globally each year, resulting in heaping mountains of electronic waste, or e-waste, that have long been a focus of environmental stakeholders such as the Basel Action Network and Greenpeace. Efforts to create recycling programs to counter e-waste have had mixed success in the EU, U.S. and elsewhere.

Egyptian mothers take to the Internet

SuperMama, an Egyptian website designed to help new mothers and mothers-to-be with accurate pregnancy and motherly advice hasn’t even had its first birthday, but the site, brought to life by Yasmine El-Mehairy, has already won business competitions. The site reached 20,000 unique hits in its first month and attracted 2,000 members when it launched in October 2011. The bilingual Arabic and English site SuperMama is paving its way through the Arab world, dispelling old wives’ tales handed down from generation to generation while still respecting not only important advice from mother to daughter, but also religious views in the Middle East.

Our aim is to become, in the near future, the first website [of choice] for women in the Middle East and North Africa,” El-Mehairy says, and it looks as though she has her wish.

Ms. El-Mehairy came up with the idea for SuperMama after searching online for pregnancy advice for her sister-in-law in 2010 and finding conflicting views and advice on what she thought were outdated traditional wives’ tales. Realizing there was an online niche that needed to be filled, she and two colleagues, Zeinab Samir and Shereen El Sammaa, put together SuperMama—a website that is the “first of its kind in the Arab world.”

Though the site is still quite young, “SuperMama is projected to have an annual turnover of over $1.6m after its first year, making its money in the traditional online way: Selling advertisement banners, sponsorships, and product placements inside the articles and videos.” SuperMama also helps mothers with their budgets by offering special discounts through affiliate sales sites.

However, Ms. El-Mehairy says that the site isn’t just about money. “We didn’t want to have just another commercial product; we wanted an idea that made a difference.”

The site’s information is checked by healthcare professionals, whereas the existing chat forums had unverified information. One example El-Mehairy gave was “the idea that feeding honey to a baby in its first three months could result in disfiguration.” El-Mehairy says it is the site’s purpose and “responsibility to dispel such myths.”

SuperMama doesn’t work from one centralized location instead relying on a network of home-based network of researchers and writers. Administrators facilitate monthly meetings to decide upcoming topics and site content, and writers’ work is forwarded to specialists for verification before publication. The site’s specialists “include doctors, teachers, psychologists, nutritionists and exercise experts—all volunteers—who provide the essential final checks that enable the mothers” to preserve all the “knowledge that has been passed” down from generation to generation.

El-Mahairy took a huge risk in setting up the website, investing her life savings into the project.

She entered the MIT Arab Enterprise Forum Business Plan Competition, a place for Arab entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas. There were 3,800 applicants, and after hitting the top 30 semi-finalists with her business model for SuperMama, El-Mehairy made “invaluable contacts in the IT industry who helped develop the business model and pointed out its weaknesses.” She entered the site into other entrepreneur competitions, winning two more, and developed a network of investors and mentors.

Entrepreneurship and investment is on a slow rise in Egypt, but El-Mehairy thinks “there are promising signs as people return to the country after years away.”

“I think we as a country are new to this entrepreneurship, and therefore it’s going to take some time.”

The site remains non-religious and non-political, something El-Mehairy feels is extremely important. That way, no one across the Arab world is excluded from using the site. After one member became upset that the site and its community didn’t offer condolences after the violence in Tahrir Square in November 2011, El-Mehairy said: “For us what kept us through is that the other mothers on the site supported this argument and told that mother that we are a non-political and non-religious site and that this is a parenting site and not a place to discuss political issues.”

Yet the site is also a reflection of political and social changes happening in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. In the wake of Arab Spring uprisings that shook the status quo throughout 2011, women’s rights advocates have been pushing for greater recognition and participation for, and by, women in charting their countries’ futures. El-Mahairy’s model combines technological advances with the traditional roles of women in a smooth new model that can simultaneously give women a greater collective voice on issues that matter to them and promote development goals in a culturally appropriate way.

She has big plans for SuperMama’s future, to include “the expansion of current online tools which help mothers manage their time and budgets,” as well as directories of local services.

El-Mehairy has hopes that one day “the word SuperMama would be the first to jump into the mind of every mother or pregnant woman when looking for information.”

The Mobile Phone Revolution In the Developing World

In the attached article the statistic is given that half of all of Nigeria’s web traffic comes from mobile phone use. I am surprised that this number is not higher.

In another life, only 3 years ago though, I was the Director of Outreach for the Openworld Institute, an organization dedicated to spreading innovation and smart business thinking in Africa, Latin America and in Asia. We were seeing the mobile phone trend then.

In developing countries smart phones have many advantages over even laptops. Most importantly they are easy to conceal. Unfortunately theft can be a real problem. Also phones are more easily charged in places where electricity can be infrequent. In some places solar phone chargers are the only way to go.

Click here for the story.

Tesco and RSPB join forces to protect rainforests

Retailers can do much to move the protection of rain forests forward. Tesco for those on the western shore of the Atlantic is the British Wal-Mart.

(From GreenWise)

Ruth Girardet, corporate responsibility director at Tesco, said: “Our aim is to create more sustainable ways of doing business and we have been working hard to reduce our own emissions. But as a leading retailer we also have a great opportunity to engage our customers to help protect our environment.”

Click here for the article.

Active Video Games No Fix for Kids’ Fitness (I don’t buy it.)

It might not be a “fix” but despite what this article says I am convinced that “active” video games are good overall for children’s fitness. I need look no farther than my own living room to see that this is true.

This past Christmas I bought an Xbox 360 for my kids (and OK myself too.)

The reason I bought this particular console was because of its Kinect system. Basically one stands in front of a sensor which reads one’s body language and allows one to dance, run, skip, summersault, whatever and see it reflected on one’s TV screen. One can play soccer, box, even hang glide virtually. It is a remarkable piece of technology for a relatively small cost.

One of the reasons I bought the system was, though not interminable, the winters outside of Washington DC are cold and restrict the amount of time my 2,5, and 7 year old can spend in the back yard or at the playground. I also noticed that one of my children tended to put on a “winter coat” every time the mercury dropped.

As one who has struggled with weight issues and as one who works out at least every other day (because I must) I did not want my child to deal with some of the issues I delt with as a child. Not that I was ever fat, but I lost my fitness every winter and could have been slimmer.

So the XBox 360.

Funny thing. Between “Fruit Ninja” where my children chop virtual fruit with their hands and feet, and another game which allows one to esentially “surf” down a river on a whitewater raft, the winter coat has not been put on.

My eldest plays with the XBox every day nearly and there is no doubt that she is better off for it. So take the attached article with a grain of salt. Maybe kids just need to find the right game.

Click here for the article.

‘Earmark’ Was Most-Searched Term on Google During Republican Debate

There are so many things to love about the internet, but what I may love the most is the ability to pull actionable information in real time.

I spend a good amount of my time looking for and identifying trends. That’s my job and thankfully there are many free tools out there to help me (and you.)

I use Google Trends all the time and the attached article is an example of how powerful it truly is.

Where is the country politically? What is the electorate talking about? How do these people break down demographically? Who is on the rise? Who is on the wane?

These answers can be answered effectively and quickly nowadays. And one had better be quick. Though there is much out there to sift through, actionable information, especially the good stuff is always in a state of flux. Windows open and close on the net in a blink of an eye, or the click of a mouse.

Click here for the story on trending topics during the GOP debate last week.

Former iPhone Factory Workers Call for Reform in Open Letter

So last week we did a story that was pretty pro-Apple. We cheer it’s culture of design and innovation. But it has some serious work to do in China.

Here is part of the open letter from workers in one of Apple‘s Chinese factories to shareholders:

(From Tomshardware.com)

“If more people know about what we went through, Apple will feel pressured to change so other workers don’t have to suffer like we did,” the letter reads, later adding, “It has been over two years since many of us were hospitalized and treated but our debilitating symptoms continue. Rui-Qiang still can’t find work because he can no longer stand for the long hours most jobs require. Jing-Chuan has to spend nearly $100 a month on health supplements.”

The website, SumOfUs.org hopes to ratchet up pressure on Apple prior to the release of the iPhone 5. This is an effective strategy. If people come to see the iPhone as a symbol of oppression and not one of liberating technology Apple is going to have a problem.

If I ran Apple I wouldn’t let that happen even if it meant increasing the cost of the iPhone by 10%. The market share Apple could lose if it continues on as it has could far outweigh the market share it will lose with a relatively small increase in cost. In fact, if done right Apple could even gain market share, and perhaps increase revenue, by producing an ethical product.

If there was ever a customer base for whom this strategy might work it is Apple’s.

This is how organizations can use the market of ideas to pressure companies to do what is right. It’s way more effective to deal with the company this way often, than to deal with the rigmarole of getting slow moving governments to regulate “solutions.”

Click here for the article.