eBay just introduced the beta version of a really cool widget called eBay To Go that can bring eBay listings or searches straight to a blog or just about any type of personal Website. There are three great options for the widget. I just tested it out with a quick search for wind turbines. Check out how interactive it is, and it’s showing real-time content from eBay.com. Pretty cool, and anyone can use it for free.
Check out Scoble’s auction below — all proceeds will go to diabetes research. It will be interesting to see how high this goes. Hopefully the widget lands in front of someone looking to fund a good cause.
A little disclaimer. eBay is one of my clients at Text 100 Public Relations. I thought this widget was too cool to not share it with any bloggers who read Clean PR.
In celebration of Earth Day, here are two fun videos.
Todd Woody talked about KQED’s Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Headed on Green Wombat earlier this week. Check it out for a look at what could have been in the Bay Area without some forward looking people.
Joel Makower produced Climate: A Crisis Averted, a ‘mock-unmentary’ from the future.
It wasn’t Marc Gunther’s columns at CNNMoney.com, articles in FORTUNE magazine or his four books that caught my attention. It was the regular attention he gives on his blog to many of the topics I’m paying attention to: CSR, sustainable business, energy and the environment. Gunther covers the impact of business on society from all angles. It’s not a new topic to him. He’s covered the underlying issues for years and has talked with many of the businesses and people that have impacted where we are today. I’m happy to share some of his thoughts with the readers of Clean PR.
Swain: A lot of large and small companies are starting from scratch with sustainability initiatives and are afraid to open the door to criticism by talking publicly; do you have any advice for when and how a company should approach this dilemma?
Gunther: The first thing you want to do is some homework, and then you want to start down the path to sustainability. No one’s there yet. No one’s perfect. Having said that, I’m a big believer in transparency, as well as in talking with people outside a company, including critics. You’ll get credit for openness. You’ll put a human face on your company. Your critics will appreciate being invited in. And you might get some good advice for free. Smart companies—Dell and Goldman Sachs come to mind—have told me recently that they have learned a lot by being open and talking about their business with NGOs.”
Some companies have successfully made sustainability part of their corporate brand identity; aside from having the products and business practices to substantiate the social responsibility message in their brand, are there any key things you’ve noticed some companies doing that separate them from the rest?
I don’t think there are a lot of companies, at least not big ones, that have made sustainability part of their brand identity. Starbucks, maybe, and Whole Foods are both admirable. Some small and mid-sized companies have also built brands around being green—Stonyfield Yogurt, Seventh Generation, Tom’s of Maine (which is now part of Colgate). I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. There are no secret strategies. You measure your impact on the environment, try to reduce your footprint, buy green power, promote recycling, sell organic products, and then tell the world what you are doing.
What role do you see technology playing in addressing the climate crisis; are you seeing some companies apply green technologies as a core component to their CSR practices? Any thoughts on which technologies or renewable sources of energy hold the most promise for corporate America?
I’m not an expert on either technology or renewables, but I’m told that many renewable energy sources have great potential. Everyone loves wind power, and it’s more economical than it used to be. The solar energy business (meaning PV installations to generate local electricity) is growing rapidly, thanks to some creative new business models. S.C. Johnson has done well by burning methane gas from a local landfill to generate electricity. PG&E Corp. is experimenting with everyone from wave power to cow power (burning manure) to plug-in electric hybrids. There are also big gains to be made in energy efficiency. Green building is taking off like crazy. It’s a very exciting time for renewable energy and once we get a tax or cap on greenhouse gases, things will only get better.
Some people have started to use the term greenwashing to describe a company who is exaggerating or misleading the public with their green credentials; how do you know the difference when you talk to a company? Also, when a company comes out making a big claim, do you check in with them at a later date to see that they are following through?
I probably don’t check back as much as I should. But when I find a company stretching the truth, I do try to report on it. Last fall, I wrote about Kimberly Clark which failed to keep its promises about sourcing pulp. Greenpeace tipped me off. I think some of the big investment banks can fairly be accused of talking bigger than they act. I don’t really care whether Citigroup buys recycled paper; I want to know whether they are underwriting coal plants.
Any thoughts about how the result of the 2008 elections could impact the progress of corporate sustainability?
I don’t think they will matter a lot. The big issue is regulation of greenhouse gases. It’s less and less a partisan issue—one leader has been Gov. Schwarzenegger. McCain and Lieberman sponsored a bill to regulate GHG.
Curiously, I think the absence of vigorous government regulation of business for most of the last 27 years has spurred CSR. Companies have stepped in to fill the gap.
There’s a combination of business, academia, government, non-profits and venture capital pushing this space ahead; is one group leading the way or is it a team effort?
NGOs are leading the way in the sense they are pushing change. They are also trusted by the public, for the most part. Business is close behind. I won’t be popular for saying this but I find that much of academia and government is irrelevant on these issues. There are exceptions, of course—people like Stu Hart at Cornell, CK Prahalad at Michigan, others at Berkeley, UNC and Yale have done great work and are influencing business. They’ve also taught me a lot, for which I’m grateful.
Have you heard from business leaders who read Faith and Fortune and became a more socially responsible business as a result?
Not so much business leaders as students or young people just getting into the business world. Some have written to me to say that they took away from the book the idea that they can make a positive difference in the world by working in corporate America. I’m a fan of groups like Net Impact and Business for Social Responsibility because they communicate that message.
Suggestions on how PR people can best work with you?
Well, I’ve been swamped with story pitches lately. If you don’t know me, a concise email to firstname.lastname@example.org is the best way to get my attention. I try to respond to all emails to me (as opposed to mass emails.) I’m sorry to say that I can’t return all phone calls; if I did, I’d never get any work done.
My first, best piece of advice is to visit my website and blog at www.marcgunther.com to see what stories I write for the magazine and for CNNMoney.com. I’m far more interested in big brand-name companies than in startups, for example. Like most reporters, I want to do stories that are surprising, ideally with a little conflict or drama. Stories that get people talking, or blogging. Because I only do about six to eight stories a year for the magazine, I want to make each one special.
Thomas Friedman wrote a 4,000 word piece in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine on The Power of Green. I haven’t had a chance to start reading it but wanted to post the link so others who have some time can check it out. A lot of people are talking about it, and from what I hear its conclusion would have been a nice ending to my blog post from earlier today, showing that Americans will come through and take the actions required to carry the “green” movement long into the future, making it bigger than any of us have imagined. One quote from the first page:
Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century…a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward.
You can also check out Thomas on video.
Last Monday I returned from vacation and as usual it was a hectic week catching up at work. My publications and RSS feeds piled up. The size of the pile itself is newsworthy. Yes, Earth Day is around the corner (April 22). And the Supreme Court did rule that the Clean Air Act gives the federal government the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Still, it’s hard to keep up when every publication, from tech’s CIO Magazine and mainstream outlets like Fortune, Time, Newsweek and Vanity Fair to the monthly newsletter for my wife’s baby group, was focused on giving people the information they need to make smarter decisions to live more sustainably.
I have a file from when I actively started tracking news coverage in clean tech and sustainable business in December 2005. At the time there were a few stories covering the greening of the data center, Vinod Khosla’s push for ethanol, and some buzz about solar power (of course there were niche green publications covering a lot more). Not much really changed until late summer 2006 when coverage started to go more mainstream. The past eight months have been a blur. What will be interesting is to see how this hype cycle plays out. How long will this coverage sustain itself? Has there been enough of a shift in popular thinking for the public to have enough knowledge and motivation to carry out everything being talked about when/if the media moves on to the next hot topic? The coverage keeps taking on a new life; what’s next?
Some would argue that this press attention isn’t going anywhere. Things have changed enough that we’re never going back. New environmental TV shows are popping up and outlets like NBC are setting trends giving their chief financial correspondent Anne Thompson the environmental beat, and some of the world’s largest corporations like GE, SC Johnson and Dow Chemical are spending significant ad dollars to drive their eco message.
We’re absolutely right thinking that press attention isn’t going anywhere if we think the way many of us are accustomed to — in the short-term. It will, without question, be with us until the conclusion of the 2008 elections (unfortunate comparison given that this issue is much bigger than politics). But global warming and sustainable thinking, as the scientists and people a lot more knowledgeable than me will tell you, aren’t short-term issues. They stretch into future generations and require that the public be the drivers to take them forward with or without the help of the media’s attention.
This issue cuts to the core of the American identity. Our society was built on consumption. I look around my house and it is filled with gadgets (iPods, entertainment system, computers, cameras) and my sports room is piled high with gear (2 pairs of skis, 2 surfboards, 3 backpacks, 2 tents, 2 sleeping bags, soccer balls, 3 bikes, snowshoes, avalanche gear…the list goes on).
This isn’t scientific. We drive too much, we fly too much, we eat too much, we wash our clothes and dishes too often, we have too many clothes, our homes are unnecessarily large, we buy junk that needs to be replaced too often, and we buy junk that shouldn’t ever be replaced because it’s junk. Straight and simple. That’s the American Dream. It’s what people have been fighting for. The rewards are plenty. I sure do like my toys and hobbies. The downside is junk and excess, not too mention what is done to the other animals who we share planet earth with that rely on the same resources as us.
And here I am. Consumer of junk. The reason this is a long-term problem. The solution? We either innovate like we’ve never innovated or we digress in ways that go against what’s in our blood, what makes us all American. I’ll get off my soapbox and let us innovate. I’m optimistic.