With so much interest in what corporations are doing to make their internal organizations and the products and services they offer more “sustainable,” it’s nice to see Intel introduce a CSR blog (thanks to triplepundit for catching this). Environmental Leaders points out that McDonald’s and Sun Microsystems also have CSR and eco blogs. I’m sure some research could uncover several others as well. Send me a comment if you know of corporate blogs to profile.
This all has some significance. Most companies are racing to figure out their internal/external approach to CSR, cleantech, and whatever else falls under the green umbrella, and just like consumers, big companies need examples and best practices to follow. Even with the dozens of new events, articles and industry associations, there aren’t enough places to turn for information. These blogs, if done right, should serve as a good forum to create discussions that help companies across industries develop their approach to CSR.
I’ve talked about how these companies are already coming together with trade groups like TechNet. Adding clear and transparent corporate blogs into the mix is another step in the right direction. And I’m sure the media won’t mind new places to turn for information.
It’s been a busy year for produces of green business news. We’ve seen dozens of new blogs emerge, mainstay outlets like CNET, BusinessWeek, Technology Review and Business 2.0 have cranked up their dedicated green coverage, and major players like Greener World Media, Green Options and World Changing have continued to up the ante with more content focused on business, technology and the environment. So it’s no surprise that GigaOm has formally introduced its green channel, Earth2Tech, which they describe as:
One part clean tech startup coverage – (a quick look at clean tech venture numbers shows the growing ranks of startups in hot areas like solar and biofuels); One part reviews of tech giant’s eco-initiatives (is Google’s carbon neutral initiative more marketing or responsible plan?); One part a resource page for entrepreneurs and Valley types looking for green tech [tools, rules, tips] – LBS meets ethanol?
I met with Om in April and he said this was coming so it’s great to see the official roll-out. Looking forward to seeing how Adena DeMonte, Katie Fehrenbacher and the GigaOm team approach the space. There’s no shortage of places to turn for green business news… all of this competition between content producers should lead to some great coverage.
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
I’m going to do more research in the coming weeks but was curious to see how much momentum sustainable and green topics have gained via consumer generated media in the last six months so here’s a few charts to get us thinking. At first glance, it does appear that the lines are trending upwards but not by quite as high of a margin as I would have expected. Although of course global warming is buzzing from the latest reports.
These charts were created using Nielsen BuzzMetrics’s BrandPulse tool which analyzes all forms of consumer-generated media, including newsgroups, message boards and discussion forums. I used a host of search terms under each general category (Clean Tech, Sustainable Business, etc.).
As someone who enjoys a good conversation, the The art of conversation article in the December 23rd issue of The Economist was an enjoyable read. First, check out these rules to conversation published by Cicero in 44BC: speak clearly, speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticize people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and above all, never lose your temper.
It’s a few thousand years later and I think people could use a refresher course in most of these. The Economist points out that Cicero left off two golden rules: remember people’s names, and be a good listener.
The article goes on to discuss the skills of some of the greatest conversationalists, the differences between eras and cultures, and the current state of conversation.
Charles Dickens commented that Americans seemed taciturn after visiting the US in the 19th century. According to the article, he “blamed this on a love of trade, which limited men’s interests and made them reluctant to volunteer information for fear of tipping their hand to a competitor.” It then references George Orwell’s complaint in 1946 that “in very English homes the radio is literally never turned off. This is done with a definite purpose. The music prevents the conversation from becoming serious or even coherent.”
All of this has clearly continued into today, and in many ways has gotten worse with TVs, PDAs, surfing the Internet. The art of conversation for many high school kids today is in two word exchanges over IM. Add blogs and social media into the mix and you’ve got a unique situation. People who would have been at the bottom of the list of great verbal conversationalists in traditional terms now have a voice. They can debate, educate, build relationships, and most importantly (going back to the main point of the article), derive enjoyment from the conversation. The art of verbal conversation is something that I hope will live forever. It’s been a site, though, watching blogs give people a chance to start a real conversation, so long as they have an audience to converse with.
To all those bloggers out there, make note of Cicero’s rules. They apply on the Web as well.
What’s this have to do with clean tech PR? The conversation in the industry has started and it’s buzzing in today’s hype cycle. Will 2007 be the year that businesses, PR people and the media educate the public with enough real substance to fuel and sustain the conversation? Right now there are only a few real leaders (conversationalists) doing this: think Al Gore, John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, Joel Makower. There’s room for a lot more.