New Resource Bank’s Sustainability Scorecard Quantifies Customers’ Commitment and Progress

October 3, 2011

New Resource Bank has a radical (for a bank) proposition: attract values-aligned deposits and use those funds to
make loans exclusively to improve sustainability. The challenge: How do we measure borrower sustainability? And where do we draw the line between who qualifies and who doesn’t? A related concern for us is maximizing our impact—we don’t want to be merely “preaching to the choir.”

We’ve addressed the challenge by developing a client sustainability assessment (try out the bank’s free sustainability scorecard – https://www.newresourcebank.com/ ) and using the score on that assessment to place our customers on a sustainability continuum.
We decided that the minimum standard we require is a genuine commitment to managing and operating more sustainably. That meant we needed to measure not just initial sustainability, but also progress over time.

The bank started testing the assessment tool in July 2010. After working with a trial group of existing customers for several months, the assessment team revised the tool based on that group’s responses and suggestions. All new commercial lending customers began taking the assessment in November 2010; existing customers participate when their loans are renewed.

Here’s how the process works: Every prospective client completes the New Resource Bank ClientSustainability Assessment, which asks a total of 42 questions about their practices related to :

  • General Sustainability,
  • Waste Management and Pollution Prevention,
  • Energy and Water Conservation,
  • Community Involvement, and
  • Employee Practices

Points are awarded based on how advanced the company’s practices are.

We then use the summary scores to sort our clients into four levels of sustainability:

  1. Learner
  2. Achiever
  3. Leader and
  4. Champion

Within those levels, clients fall into Silver and Gold rankings. Clients receive a toolkit based on their assessment that provides resources,
suggestions, and initiatives that can help them improve their sustainability. The bank’s goal is to have customers advance to the next level—or higher—with each successive assessment. We will re-assess existing customers annually to track the impact we are having and evaluate the trends across our market segments. The initial round of reassessments will happen at the end of 2011.

To date, 50 New Resource clients have completed the assessment. NRB has:

  • 1 Silver Learner (2% of total)
  • 20 Gold Learners (40%)
  • 15 Silver Achievers (30%)
  • 8 Gold Achievers (16%)
  • 6 Silver Leaders (12%)
  • No Gold Leaders – yet
  • No Champions – yet

Once the bank has a large enough pool of participants, they plan to use the collected information to compare markets, sector by sector, to determine whether certain types of businesses are scoring higher than others on the sustainability scale and what their challenges are.
We could then use that information to devise industry-specific solutions –possibly in clean-technology, water management or health care.

As a bank, their goal is to ensure that depositors’ money is invested in companies, projects and organizations committed to

As a trusted advisor, NRB’s mission is to help businesses unlock the economic value of sustainability.
By aggregating the individual data we collect, the assessment provides a means to evaluate both of these objectives.


New Resource clients take the assessment by using an interactive online tool that quantifiesthe results automatically and sends the score directly to the clients’ loan officers. The assessment is available for anyone to view on our website, sothat our stakeholders can see for themselves how we are evaluating our loan portfolio. http://newresourcebank.com

Article written by Bill Peterson, NRB for Sustainable Life Media

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Increasing Well-Being To Build Your Brand and Competitive Advantage

A new vision of what it means to be prosperous and to flourish as individuals and societies is taking hold in parts of the business world. It’s inspired by the coming together of disparate disciplines including:

  • Positive psychology
  • Welfare economics
  • Hedonomics
  • Neuroscience
  • Marketing

For a long time there have been counter-intuitive signs leading Nobel prize winners like Amartya Sen, Jospeh Stigliz and Dan Kahneman, to question the meaning of prosperity.

Since Robert Kennedy’s 1968 speech questioning GNP as a measure, evidence such as the Happy Planet Index and Genuine Progress Indicator (now being used by the State of Maryland), are helping challenge assumptions about the link between wealth, growth and well-being and prosperity. These indicators show for instance, that despite continuing exponential economic growth since the 1970s, in the rich world, life-satisfaction has flat-lined.

Work by academics and think tanks shows that, above a level of income we have all in the rich world long since achieved, only 7% of our well-being comes from income. The key things which increase well-being are:

  • connection to friends, family and community
  • giving back and volunteering
  • being physically active
  • having life goals and continuing to learn
  • taking notice and being engaged

These are what the New Economics Foundation think tank calls the “five ways to well-being,” and they are now becoming central to UK Government policy.
Combined with this is the increasing realization for many that we are living off the capital and the interest of planet earth and are at or near the limits of safety in terms of the pressure of the macro-economy on the planet. A consensus is building that continued growth of the macro-economy risks pushing us into unstoppable climate change and the peaking of many of the finite resources our way of life depend on. Other evidence is emerging from economics work by Professors Tim Jackson and Peter Victor suggesting we do not actually need growth to deliver the kinds of things we expect from a successful economy. Others are showing that in fact we may indeed be at the end of growth, whether we like it or not.

As a result of these forces, a new economics is emerging that questions the meaning of prosperity and posits that instead of focusing on growing wealth we ought instead to focus on growing well-being. Such thinking comes at a time when a significant segment of society (those sometimes described as “Cultural Creatives”, an estimated 33% of the U.S. population), are once again tuning in to Thoreau’s thinking in Walden that a person “is rich in proportion to the number of things they can do without.”

Politicians, interestingly many from the new right, are tuning in to these new cultural norms and framing their new politics in terms of well-being and community rather than wealth and individualism. President Sarkozy of France asked Joseph Stiglitz to lead a policy review on these issues and, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron after his own review has set his Office of National Statistics upon the task of measuring and developing policy around well-being.

As well as numerous speeches on the subject of well-being, Cameron recently called on business “to work on improving quality of life and well-being.” These signals from governments, as well as pressures from NGOs and think tanks and these shifting societal norms are putting pressure on companies to develop more authentic, post-consumerist businesses which place well-being at their hearts.

Brands like Coca-Cola have long flirted with the language of happiness. Others like IKEA, Nesquik, Dunkin Donuts and BMW have also more recently started tuning their brands into “happiness.” There has been little indication until now that companies are really trying to understand the complexity and richness of the research on well-being, flourishing, positive psychology and welfare economics. But things seem to be changing.

Recently a client of mine and one of the UK’s leading CEOs, Ian Cheshire of Kingfisher B&Q (seeking to be the world’s largest home improvement retailer), spoke about the need for a new capitalism which prioritizes well-being over growth. Cheshire is just one of a number of CEOs in the UK and elsewhere who are working hard behind the scenes to understand how they can evolve their business models so that their products, services and brands support maximum flourishing for their customers, workers and society at large.

Companies from SSE (formerly Scottish and Southern Energy) to Virgin (too many businesses to list) are experimenting in mapping aspects of well-being against their products, services, and brand attributes, and considering how research into happiness — for example, studies that spending money on experiences makes people happier than buying material objects — could (and should) alter their strategies.

The holy grail for these companies has become the “well-being dividend” where sustainability efforts can be shown to increase rather than damage customer and societal quality of life and well-being. In its Sustainable Living Plan, for example, consumer-products conglomerate Unilever committed to “improve the well-being of one million people.” Having made that promise, the company must now work out what it must do to deliver on it.

The movement seems poised for the next step: turning theory into practice through experimentation and innovation.

* This article was adapted from Jules Peck’s Harvard Business Review’s blog published on Sept. 19, 2011

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Sustainability at the core of a brand’s purpose matters more than ever.

Sustainability at the core of a brand’s purpose matters more than ever!

We’re all interested in a more sustainable world. But not when we’re buying detergent. Or a car. Or coffee.

If that seems a bit obvious, thank hindsight. A few years ago, many marketers – myself included – saw ethical consumption as the trend redefining business.

But North American shoppers never voted for sustainability with their wallets. As a result, the vast majority of green products never captured more than a sliver of their market.

Today, with economic concerns top of mind, that trend has accelerated. As Bensimon Byrne’s new Canadian Consumerology report reveals, pocketbook concerns are overriding environmental concerns across the consumer spectrum, but most dramatically among moderately green mainstream consumers.

And there’s been a significant decline in the number of Canadians who believe they can afford to buy green.

So is green business dead? Definitely not. The same report states “More than three quarters agree that government should force corporations to act in an environmentally friendly manner.” Consumers are looking to corporations to clean up their act, even if they feel they can’t afford to shop green.

It’s an interesting situation. And one that is defining the way green is being adopted in business.

I won’t reward green. But I’ll punish un-green!
Nike’s Air Jordan is a green marvel. It’s manufactured with earth-friendly materials and unique stitches that dramatically reduce the amount of toxic glues needed. But it’s not positioned as a green sneaker. Nike believes this would dilute the brand promise of authentic athletic performance.

In fact, you’ll find very little green in the Nike brand. But if you look at the company literature, sustainability is everywhere. Eco-efficiency and innovation are considered in virtually every corporate and design decision. The company walks green—it just doesn’t talk green.

This philosophy is being adopted by more and more consumer goods leaders. Unilever, for example, rarely mentions green credentials on product packages or advertising. But the company’s “Sustainable Living Plan” is celebrated as one of the most ambitious corporate sustainability programs in the world. It documents a company in transition: on the one hand taking pains to map out Unilever’s current environmental footprint, warts and all; and on the other, describing a plan that could template a way forward for responsible corporations.

Advantages beyond green?
Yes, there’s a payback for companies like Unilever. Sustainability usually brings manufacturing efficiencies. Employee retention and productivity goes up. Punitive government actions go down.

But ironically, consumers are also a consideration. Not because they’ll buy more of the company’s product, but because they’ll unleash fury on corporations that are not behaving sustainably. Kit Kat provides a particularly chilling example. The company was publicly lambasted (most memorably in a gruesome YouTube spoof commercial) by Greenpeace and citizen activists for using unsustainably sourced palm oil in its chocolate.

So where to from here?
We can safely say products of the future will have sustainability “built in.” But green may not be a selling feature. Instead, brands will continue to be built with perennial drivers like deep consumer insights, design and innovation

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