Sustainability. Thirteen letters so complicated that it’s much easier to ignore than to comprehend. It’s just so… BIG. Where do I start? How can I make a difference when I am 1/7,000,000,000th of the problem? ARGH!
When I calm down, I try to wrap my head around it. A revered Buddhist teacher and author pops into my head. With his soft, soothing voice, he says to me: “The universe is a big place. So redefine your universe and make it smaller, more manageable.” (I am paraphrasing, of course.)
Now, THAT I can do!
For most of my grown-up years, I have been trying to apply that thinking. Now, it affects how I buy, from whom I buy and where. Here are a few things I am doing to embed sustainability into my life. During CBD’s Meaningful Month, I challenge you to do the same.
1. Recycle. Reuse. That’s a no-brainer, especially in the city with our gigantic blue bins. But what if you don’t have access? Recycling can turn into reusing very quickly. Old t-shirts can be turned into quilts. Old furniture can be given new life with a paint job.
2. Consume fewer consumables. I was trying to explain to my partner why I needed a new tablet. She was very dubious, but was later convinced. In a month alone, I have read books and magazines that would have normally used paper. I MISS paper, don’t get me wrong, but I do like the idea of saving. Same goes for making lists at the market: I use the program Evernote to take notes and check off what I’ve purchased. Technology saves.
3. Reduce your energy. Anything from lighting to temperature can make a huge difference in energy consumption. In Chicago, we are blessed with “night lights” (AKA street lights), which constantly pour into our homes. So when we are in the home, why not use it? If you can see, avoid flipping a switch.
4. Buy and grow local. In my neighborhood, we have a wonderful farmers’ market. I try to go at least twice a month to stock up on vegetables that are in season. To supplement our cooking addiction, my partner has also started a simple herb garden.
5. Think transit. Again, in the city we are very fortunate to have an extensive transit system. I rely on train, bus or bike to get around the city but—if I need a car and our single family car is being used—I opt for ZipCar. As a self-confessed car fanatic, the idea of driving anything from a Toyota Prius to an Audi A3 is WAY more fun than driving what I could afford to own.
The moral of the story is this—You don’t have to do EVERYTHING, but you can do SOMETHING. Even the smallest thing makes a difference. Just change your perspective. You don’t have to change The Whole Big-Earth-And-Planet-And-Cosmos-Entirely World™… just start with your world.
It’s almost fall, the beginning of the season of traditions. Millions of us will be tromping out to the pumpkin farm to pick out the perfect jack-o-lantern in the crisp autumn air. It’s a romantic image, to be sure. What could this tradition have to do with optimizing your corporate sustainability practice? Read on!
As of the 2010 Census, about 81 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas. We’re far away from the sources of our food and goods…farther still from the visible consequences of our hunger for more. Our daily environments provide little or no exposure to spaces that have not been rigidly adapted for our convenience. But in our flat screen existences, we know we’ve lost something…many recent studies point to our collective yearning to return to the simple and real. We’re suffering from nature deficit disorder!
For many, annual jaunts to the pumpkin patch provide a bit of rejuvenation. But nowadays, there are more year-round opportunities for these experiences. Struggling family farmers have been turning their homesteads into tourist attractions in an effort to turn a profit. It turns out that agri-tainment (or agritourism) is fertile ground for the rich, values-based back-to-simple experiences urbanites crave. Pick your own produce, meander through a corn maze, commune with the cows and sample some fresh apple cider…this industry has shown that occasional trips to the farm helps visitors stay in touch with family, agrarian, spiritual and ethical values. These are some of the ideals that help us to take personal actions to promote sustainability.
Family farms have become popular school field-trip destinations to help kids understand where milk and eggs and vegetables come from. At farms like these, tourists can actually pay for the privilege of working on a real farm for a day or two. And the adventurous ones can even rent a cow for a while. This all boils down to tangible experiences of exercising values that lay somewhat dormant in our urban and suburban environments. Necessary and beneficial as these once-in-awhile experiences can be, how can corporate entities harness these insights?
Help employees plant some seeds!
In the New York Times, Kim Severson reported that corporate gardens are springing up at major companies like PepsiCo, Google, Yahoo, Aveda, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Intel, Toyota and Target, among others. Onsite organic gardens are becoming a valued new employee benefit at a time when health care, pensions and holiday bonuses wane. They are therapeutic, morale-boosting spaces for both gardeners and non-gardeners and an unmistakable demonstration of a committed culture of sustainability.
Many corporate sustainability initiatives are tightly-controlled top-down programs. Few day-to-day employees help to design them and, therefore, few participate in them with real enthusiasm. Employees don’t burst with pride about the personal difference they made by simply working for a company that reduced their carbon footprint by 17.5 percent last year. But innovators are realizing the value of giving employees very personal experiences…traditions to celebrate nature and memories of building something meaningfully and tangibly sustainable together.
Maybe we can learn more about innovative business practices from the agri-tainment industry. This local farm is certainly building a lot a buzz this week with the world’s largest QR-code corn maze!
By-the-by, it’s time to plant Fall bulbs. I’m planting Fritillaria imperialis this year!
At CBD, our mission is to “Market what’s Meaningful” for our clients. Those words serve as a guide and help bring focus to our work. But we also know that families, friends and the work we do in our communities are what bring true meaning to our lives. So to honor CBD’s 24th Anniversary, we’re issuing a challenge — find new ways to bring meaning to your life and community. Here are a few of the things we’ll be doing. We challenge you to join in!
Meaningful Month: The Gist of It
During the month of September, CBDers will participate in activities each week. Our goal is to give back to the community and—of course—do something meaningful.
Week 1: September 3-7, 2012
Feeding the Hungry
There’s nothing more meaningful than providing good, healthy food to those in need. For our Food Week, CBD will be collecting non-perishable items to donate to local food pantries. We’ll also be sharing top-secret CBD recipes. Be on the lookout for your chance to win all the recipes shared!
Week 2: September 10-14, 2012
Respecting the Planet
Everyone knows that conservation is important, but not enough of us think about the impact we, personally, can make by adopting a greener lifestyle and respecting our planet. During Sustainability Week, CBD will be starting our very own compost/worm bin in the office. In addition, some CBDers will be participating in the September Adopt a Beach Event sponsored by the Alliance for the Great Lakes as part of the International Coastal Cleanup. We’ll detail how one modest lifestyle change can result in a smaller ecological footprint.
Week 3: September 17-21, 2012
Clothing for a Cause
As a business, CBD believes everyone should be able to dress for success. CBD’s Clothing Week will highlight all the benefits donating clothes can bring. From Goodwill to Bottomless Closet, we’ll examine how one of your unused items can help someone achieve their professional goals.
Week 4: September 24-28, 2012
Supporting the Cure
For the last week of Meaningful Month, CBD will be kicking off its creative planning for the Illinois chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a terrific organization for which we do pro-bono work all year long. Make sure to stop by the JDRF site and register for its 2012 Walk to Cure Diabetes, taking place October 14 in Chicago. All funds raised will be dedicated to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Want to Help?
There’s plenty to do! If you’re a Pinterest or Twitter user, we encourage following @cbdmarketing and www.pinterest.com/cbdmarketing. If Facebook is more of your style, like www.facebook.com/cbdmarketing to keep yourself in the loop.
During the entire September month, CBD will be using hashtag #MeaningfulMonth to keep track of everyone’s acts of community kindness. We challenge you to find meaning wherever you are and hare it socially. Whether you’re buying coffee for a coworker or your company is donating to charity—we want to hear!
In addition to the work that I do at CBD, I sit on the Board of Trustees in a suburb of Chicago. Like dozens of other communities in Illinois, my village passed a municipal electric aggregation referendum in March of 2012. I, along with another Trustee and our Village Manager, was tasked with seeing the aggregation process through on behalf of the village.
When determining what was important to me in aggregation, I understood that savings was a given. What mattered to me was getting the most flexibility for residents and making sure that I was making the right—not the wrong—decision. It’s easy to explain to residents that they are going to save a significant amount of money on their electric bills, but the last thing that any elected official wants to deal with is making a decision that creates issues for residents. I wanted to be confident that residents would get good customer service and that they could opt out without financial penalty at any time.
Other things I would have liked to see that may have helped tip the scales in favor of one provider or another, if everything else was on-par:
- Help with getting the word out about the referendum, as the village was prevented from taking a side on how to vote when informing residents about the ballot initiative for aggregation. This could include:
- Augmenting regular consumer-focused customer acquisition campaign tactics with a “vote yes on aggregation” message.
- Hosting a coffee reception for residents (not Village Board members) to explain what aggregation is and how it benefits residents, encouraging them to vote to pass the referendum.
- Reaching out to local press to discuss the benefits of municipal aggregation and explain what a “yes” vote on the issue means to residents.
Knowing that a company was willing to act as a partner with the village prior to the referendum would have created some goodwill, not to mention positive visibility, for the provider.
After the referendum vote, bidding REPs could have considered:
- Providing concise, yet compelling “why us” narratives to the Village Board. Help the decision-makers understand that there is a qualitative difference between providers.
- In the bid package, offer to send out a mailing explaining why the board made a good decision in selecting the provider (if they are selected).
- Offering more than one plan for residents to choose from. Ideally, I would have liked to have offered residents a default green plan, but also give them the option of a brown plan to opt into—with both plans priced at an attractive, aggregated rate.
Bottom line: There’s opportunity for REPs competing for municipal aggregation contracts to meaningfully differentiate themselves at a time when it’s very likely that bids will be a tenth of a penny per kWh or less apart.
Consumers identify unethical food sourcing as practices that have crossed the bounds of food safety, health, environmental and social responsibility. For example, consumers perceive gestation crates unethical from an animal welfare point of view. In the mind of the consumer, it is difficult to separate unhealthy animal treatment with the final product they consume. Likewise, unethical practices that don’t affect food production, such as Nestle’s baby formula promotional tactics or Dole Pineapple’s labor law violations, have also had a profound impact on consumers’ buying decisions. Like any other product, consumers vote with their wallets to “punish” companies for perceived unethical behavior. No matter how superior in quality, if your coffee grain is linked to child-labor, consumers will hardly want to associate themselves with your product.
When it comes to making food choices based on ethical sourcing, consumers seem to be influenced by both brand reputation as well as individual product reputation. Chipotle’s efforts to highlight its ethically raised meat have paid off in phenomenal growth during very difficult economic times. When it comes to individual product selection, third-party certifications are playing a huge role in influencing consumer perceptions. The number of U.S. products launched with Fair Trade Certification doubled from 2008 to 2011. For the same time period, Innova Market Insight, a marketing research firm, reported that sales of ethically positioned foods grew from 3.7 percent to 6 percent. Clearly, third-party food certification is having an impact on buying behavior.
Stonyfield Farms is a great example of how a company can leverage both brand reputation and third-party endorsements to promote “ethical” products. The company promotes its ethical farming practices (organic, sustainable, animal welfare and chemical-free) as well as environmentally-responsible operations (efficient transportation, renewable energy, and zero waste). The business uses third-party certifications like the USDA Organic Seal to further its credibility. The company has maintained an overall annual revenue growth rate of over 26 percent (5 times the industry average) and built annual revenues of $300 million. They attribute this financial success directly to core values that dictate how well food is made, animals and employees are treated as well the environment.
As much as food manufacturers and businesses would like to distill a proper definition for ethical sourcing, it seems it won’t be possible for the time being. A survey conducted by Innova Market Insights in 2011 shows that people consider several factors beyond organic when considering “ethical” food purchases. Most foods recognized as “ethical” are using third party certifications from Fair Trade USA, The Marine Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance. All these certifications touch different realms of sustainability, human and environmental responsibility –thus making it difficult to narrow down a static definition for ethical sourcing.
One of the best ways for brands to engage consumers on ethical sourcing is to proactively improve on issues that are important to consumers. Third party certification schemes definitely lend to brand integrity but, to best navigate consumer quality expectations, brands must listen into consumer conversations in real-time. In the case of ethical sourcing –which is a fluid, evolving concept– listening to what is being discussed on online is essential to understanding what is today’s definition of ethical sourcing and matching a company’s ethical sourcing efforts to consumer expectations.
It’s one of the most intriguing entrants into retail energy… iPowerPlay. This start-up is purportedly bringing electricity consumer engagement into the realm of social and mobile media through a proprietary technology platform that they will also license to other electricity providers.
[Just in case your next move is to go look for their website, keep in mind that iPowerPlay is also the name of an iTunes app you can purchase for ¢.99, as well as the moniker of an Xbox gamer.]
Based on their website, iPowerPlay seeks to be (yet) another “Power to the People” provider who “Makes Energy Easy.” How they will do this is a bit murky at this point. But it’s early days for this new entrant. This June, iPowerPlay filed for an aggregator’s license in Texas, so we may see a nonmunicipal, bulk energy buying model emerge.
Presently, they are conducting an interesting, limited pilot program in California and Texas. By signing up, and giving iPowerPlay access to their smart meter account, homeowners and businesses in select areas can receive social media, email, text, and app alerts every month about their energy usage, and a cash reward for voluntarily (and manually) turning down their air conditioners during peak periods.
Utilities offer this type of program to customers who have to install a special thermostat and allow the utility to automatically turn their air conditioning up during peak usage periods. In exchange, customers earn bill credits. This “big brother” approach is distasteful to many consumers. iPowerPlay’s take may be a more palatable model; however, it’s unclear how and if iPowerPlay can make it profitable.
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