People-planet-profit; the rise of the two new Chiefs – Customer and Sustainability

In the 21st Century, it is difficult to find a company that doesn’t care about customers or care about being a good corporate citizen.  Yet, companies continue to show disregard for their customers and often display little or no well-being for their community or the public.

Attending the Sustainability Awards lunch in earlier this month, Mr Robert Fitzgerald AM, Commissioner, Productivity Commission, explained that “Companies are not just publicly traded stock but (they are) part of the public”.

For any company who is brand conscious, this should bring serious concern, particularly as consumers and the general public are nowadays empowered by the use of global social media platforms to communicate their opinions and often dissatisfaction.

In major organisations globally, two new executives are emerging; the Chief Customer Officer (CCO) and Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO).  In Australia, an ASX20 company has recently appointed a CCO who has effectively been granted the ‘keys to the kingdom’ to act on anything customer interfacing, almost as if were Deputy CEO.  This same organisation has also appointed a CSO to focus on the company’s CSR, environment, and community stakeholder alliances.

There is a significant opportunity for these two executives to work in collaboration to achieve particularly in FMCG or B2C consumer driven markets since the customer is often the broader general public and community.  In 2005/06, Australia led the way with the ‘then emergence’ of the Chief Risk Officer (CRO); the ASX200 had a greater percentage of CROs than any Stock Exchange listed country in the globe.  Some might argue the fact that Australian companies were risk management conscious could stand to reason as to why many have managed the turmoil better than most other nations during the GFC and surrounding economic turbulence.

There lies the opportunity for companies to lead the way in the economy of tomorrow and be focused on customer and sustainability. Since most corporations today report on a 3-Pillar framework, People-Planet-Profit, it makes sense that both the CCO (people) and CSO (planet) alignment can strive towards the first two, which can only lead to the core company goal – (profit); ultimately maximising shareholder returns.

Regardless of your nation’s carbon conscience or commitment to planet, promote the sustainability focus across your company and entice and communicate with customers in this regard because the customer-community and people-planet connection is becoming an ever increasing way in which we will think tomorrow.

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Kraft Completes Farm-To-Fork Environmental Impact Survey

The bulk of Kraft Foods’ environmental footprint originates on the farms that grow ingredients for the company’s products, according to a multi-year footprinting project that measured the company’s full impact on climate change, land and water use.

The comprehensive survey was completed with sustainability consulting firm Quantis Inc. and reviewed and analyzed by World Wildlife Fund and academics at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

Insights from the survey include:

  • More than 90 percent of Kraft’s carbon footprint originates outside its plants and offices, and nearly 60 percent is from farm commodities.
  • About 12 percent of the carbon footprint is from transportation and distribution of products from stores to consumers’ homes.
  • About 5 percent of the carbon footprint is from consumers, mostly in food preparation.
  • More than 80 percent of the land impact is from agriculture. In comparison, the impact from manufacturing facilities and offices is negligible.
  • About 70 percent of the water footprint is from growing raw materials (including agricultural commodities used to make food products), while only 10 percent comes from manufacturing facilities/offices.
  • Another 10 percent comes from consumer use, mostly from food preparation.

“Having the ‘big picture’ of our total footprint–from farm to fork–validates the focus of our sustainability efforts, particularly advancing sustainable agriculture,” says Roger Zellner, Sustainability Director for Research, Development & Quality.  “Experts say climate change, land and water use may be among the biggest challenges in feeding a world of 9 billion people in 2050.  As we continue our sustainability journey, we now have more insight into where we can make the greatest difference.”

While the company does not own farms, the survey supports the work of its sustainable agriculture efforts on key commodities to improve crop yields, reduce environmental impacts and improve the lives of many of the farm workers and their families.

“This study shows that in order to make meaningful change and conserve nature’s valuable resources, companies need to work with their suppliers to reduce the impact of producing raw materials,” says Dave McLaughlin, VP of Agriculture at World Wildlife Fund. “This means forging long term partnerships based on shared objectives, creating a transformational supply chain, a key strategy of WWF’s market transformation initiative.”

Expanded Sustainability Goals

Last May, Kraft Foods announced expanded sustainability goals and highlighted progress against its six sustainability focus areas. Kraft Foods now has added transportation and agricultural commodities to what it will be measuring. From a 2010 base, by the end of 2015 Kraft Foods plans to:

  • Increase sustainable sourcing of agricultural commodities by 25 percent
  • Reduce energy use in manufacturing plants by 15 percent
  • Reduce energy-related CO2 emissions in manufacturing plants by 15 percent
  • Reduce water consumption in manufacturing plants by 15 percent
  • Reduce waste at manufacturing plants by 15 percent
  • Eliminate 50,000 metric tons (100 million lbs.) of packaging material
  • Reduce 80 million km (50 million miles) from its transportation network

Kraft’s achievements from the period 2005 through 2010 include:

  • Energy use is down 16 percent
  • CO2 emissions are down 18 percent
  • Incoming water is down 30 percent
  • Net waste is down 42 percent
  • Packaging is down 100,000 metric tons (200 million lbs)
  • 96 million km (60 million road miles) have been removed from its transportation/distribution network

Kraft’s associate director for life cycle management, Dan Pettit, describes the footprinting process and its effects on operations in a video here.

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How to Actually Improve Products, Cut Costs & Save the Planet

As product designers and engineers, we are responsible for putting hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of units of products on the market each year. Since our work occurs at the beginning of a product lifecycle, we have the opportunity – make that responsibility — to effect change. Our position is that incremental changes, when multiplied by large number of units, can have a significant impact in terms of the environment.

Recently, the MIT Sloan Management Review surveyed 3,000 businesses and 60% responded that they are increasing their investment in sustainability. This is good news, but we’ve found that good intentions are sometimes blunted by a concern over costs and a lack of knowledge of how to actually implement more sustainable processes in product design.

We’ve been fortunate to work with several clients where we could demonstrate that more sustainable design processes would actually save them money and be relatively painless to integrate into their existing product development process.

Our incrementalism approach is focused on cost reduction because we think that this tangible benefit is most likely to gain support.

There are three large trends affecting product development right now:

  1. Global pressure to develop more sustainable products.
  2. Speed to Market pressure and
  3. Little appetite to invest significantly in a true sustainable approach in product development.

All the more reason to focus on tangible benefits (cost savings) and on small changes that can be implemented very quickly.  Focusing on the small steps – incremental changes – will increase the likelihood of client adaptation and the production of more sustainable products, the ultimate successful outcome we seek.

Evaluating a product’s environmental impact is called Life Cycle Analysis, or LCA.  Boiled down to its essence, life cycle analysis looks at five phases of every product’s life: Extraction (raw materials mining, cutting down trees, pumping new oil out of the ground); Manufacturing (materials and sub-assemblies through manufacture of final product); Transportation (both raw materials through transport of final product to customer); useful life of the product (how long does it last?) and finally, the end of useful life (What happens to the product now?) Ideally, it is recycled and goes onto some new life. More often, unfortunately, it’s incinerated or put into a landfill.

There are two approaches to LCA.  In- depth life cycle analysis may take months and tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars to capture every last specific detail about a process. In a truly in-depth LCA, its not enough to say you have a pound of ABS plastic in your design. You would have to know where the oil for the plastic came from, where the chemicals came from and how much energy went into their manufacturing, and where were they transported to and form. While this in-depth analysis is a powerful tool and appropriate for some companies, it doesn’t lend itself to quick and economical action in the context of product development.

Fortunately, there’s another way to go: we call it the “aggregate data base camp” which uses a similar thought process, but condenses it down using industry average data for each of the five steps and each of the materials and processes. So you would look at that same pound of ABS plastic and look at average environmental impacts that come from the industry as a whole.

This approach certainly gives a much lower degree of resolution, but it’s a degree of resolution that you can get to very quickly and you can iterate very rapidly in your design.

A number of new software approaches equip designers and engineers for the task, including Sustainable Minds, EcoTeam and SustainabilityXpress from SolidWorks. They all have pluses and minuses but all provide a basic tool to get started with more sustainable product development. And they draw from similar databases so the quality is pretty similar. What’s critical is for designers to select a tool, run with it, and start learning from it.

We’ve evolved a five-phase process for working with these tools (Sustainable Minds in our case) to begin to “Cut the Crap” (pardon my French), designing more sustainable products while saving our clients money at the same time. I want to be sure to make the point that this is not a new design process; we’re not advocating throwing out the way products are currently being designed. The point is that these are steps that can be grafted onto whatever a company’s current process might be.

These LCA steps are happening concurrently to the existing process, not disrupting it, which makes it even easier to get buy-in from the client team.

Here’s an overview of the process:

  1. Define and Declare. Simply put, what is the product and what service does it provide? For example, for a box fan, the service is how many hours of use you get.  So if box fan A gives you 100 hours and box fan B has twice the environmental impact but gives you 400 hours, box fan B may be more sustainable.
  2. Define the system. Think of a vacuum cleaner that has bags or maintenance items – lubricants, belts, etc. Determine which components will be part of the analysis.
  3. Benchmark.  Either use the existing product, or if you are designing a new product, a close competitor. Analyze or estimate the current environmental impact using Sustainable Minds or a similar tool. Now you begin the first round of LCA. Keep in mind that there is a whole range of environmental impacts. Carbon Dioxide is obviously a big one, but water gentrification, fossil fuel depletion, human carcinogens or human toxicity should always be considered as well. Ideally, you would like to reduce them all, but what often happens is that concept A is lower in terms of global warming but higher in terms of smog, and concept B is vice versa. Luckily software packages like Sustainable Minds weigh the various parameters and reduce the total impact to a score. This is where you’ve got the biggest opportunities for improved sustainability and where we challenge assumptions and push our clients in directions that may be a bit different.
  4. Iterative LCA and product design.  We can fine tune along every step of the design process.  Analysis of various options can be done in an hour or less and as you continue doing these runs as you make decisions on a daily basis, such as whether a part will be metal or plastic, or how many pieces are needed. Design alternatives and material choices can be informed all along the way by iterative steps of LCA.
  5. Optimization. Finally, we can squeeze out one more round of LCA for product optimization. Being able to eliminate 5 or 10 percent extra material in many of the plastic parts will have a meaningful impact when multiplied across hundreds of thousands of units.

Here’s a real life example that illustrates how the first ideas you come up with are not always the most sustainable choices. Consider the shipping reel. You’ve probably seen these large wooden reels on the backs of trucks, loaded up with heavy wire tubing. The empty reels often wind up as tables at day camps or grad student coffee tables or in landfills. The reason why they’re turned into tables is that it’s cost prohibitive to return them. A wire vendor can almost always buy a new reel for less than it costs to ship one back and reuse it.  So, their lifespan averaged two trips. Even if you want to re-use them, the wood flange degrades after about six cycles.

So the interesting proposition – that makes both business and environmental sense – was to design a reel that would be easier and more cost effective to return and reuse. The notion was to make the reels collapsible so they can be broken down and shipped back at a far lower cost.

Our preconception was that the new device would be entirely plastic and we set the mark at 36 shipments, versus the one or two currently being used.  But our initial Sustainable Minds analysis showed that an all-plastic reel with 36 uses would be essentially equivalent – environmentally – to the wooden reels already on the market! Certainly we don’t want equivalent, so back to the drawing board. Competitive research showed other breakdown reels on the marketplace, but the big red flag was that these reels hold only about 1,000 pounds of wire, where our reel needs to hold 3,000 pounds.

After analyzing the strength and environmental impact of all wood and all plastic, we developed a hybrid approach, with a plastic core that allowed us the flexibility to design the breakdown features, with wooden flanges to hold the wire. On a stiffness basis, wood is really a tremendous material quite well suited for this application.  Ultimately a single plastic, 2-part core with six sets of wood flanges (making 6 trips each) for a total of 36 uses is how we defined the system. With this hybrid system we were able to achieve a 37% improvement in environmental impact.

Finally, we wanted to look for additional, incremental improvements by optimizing the structure of the core’s plastic parts. We were able to cut out about 10 percent of the plastic, which ultimately brought us to a 45% improvement in the environmental impact of this new reel, from the starting point of the all-wood reel.

That extra 10% represents a huge cost savings for the client and reduces the number of pounds of plastic used by 10 percent. Multiply that by the number of reels that will be made and then you are talking about significant impacts.  We are now exploring a manufacturer take- back program using practically all recycled plastic.

Our hope is that, as a profession, product designers and engineers can start utilizing tools like Sustainable Minds more and more frequently.  Their leadership will absolutely impact our environment for the good, and their client’s bottom lines as well.

By focusing on the very tangible sustainability benefit of cost reduction, product designers can lead the charge with their corporate clients and everybody wins.

An article from Sustainable Life Media. Mathieu Turpault graduated from the Superior School of Industrial Design of Paris (ESDI). Mathieu is a member of the Industrial Designers Society of America.

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E-waste: the high cost of high-tech

E-waste from used electrical and electronic gadgets such as desktop computers, laptops and iPhones is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. Rapid uptake of information technology around the world coupled with the advent of new design and technology at regular intervals is causing the early obsolescence of many such gadgets.

We all know the benefits of electrical and electronic gadgets. But we don’t know nearly as much about the adverse effects they have once we throw them away.

In the United States, producer of the largest amounts of e-waste in the world, it is estimated that over 100 million computers, monitors and televisions become obsolete each year. That amount is growing every year.

The European Union generated an estimated 9.3 million tonnes of e-waste in 2005. This included 40 million personal computers and 32 million televisions.

Each year over 130 million mobile phones in the United States and over 105 million mobile phones in Europe reach the end of their life and are thrown away.

E-waste has become a serious social problem and an environmental threat in many countries. The United Nations estimates that collectively the world now generates 20 to 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year. By 2020, it estimates e-waste from old computers in South Africa and China will have jumped by 200-400% and in India by 500% from 2007 levels.

Most of the used electrical and electronic gadgets in Australia end up in landfill. The Australian Government reported that in 2007-08, 31.7 million new televisions, computers and computer products were [sold in Australia]. In the same period, 16.8 million of these items reached the end of their life: 88% went to landfill and only 9% were recycled.

By 2027-28, the government estimates 44 million televisions, computers and computer products will be reaching the end of their life.

E-waste contains more than 1,000 different substances. These include toxic metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and flame retardants used in the plastics.

There are growing concerns that most of the e-waste generated in developed countries is ending up in developing countries. Some of the e-waste collected for recycling in Australia may end up in these countries (though this may be resolved once new regulations become effective).

These countries are economically challenged and lack the infrastructure for environmentally sound management of e-waste.

The toxic waste causes adverse socio-economic, public health and environmental impact. Research studies have identified increased levels of trace elements such as lead, zinc, silver, cadmium and copper and a number of other chemicals in these environments. On the positive side, e-waste also contains valuable materials such as gold and palladium which can be recovered.

Asia – including Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Vietnam; and Africa – including Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Ghana – are the latest dumps for e-waste generated in advanced economies.

Managing e-waste in these countries is not easy: most have neither a well-established system for separation, storage, transportation, treatment and disposal of waste nor any effective enforcement related to managing e-waste. Most dispose of e-waste alongside domestic waste in open dumps, causing severe damage to the environment and human health.

Threats from the ever growing e-waste stream could only be minimised by producing less of it: we need to find alternatives to toxic materials. Good examples of this include lead-free soldering and the development of halogen-free brominated flame retardants in electronics manufacture.

As consumers we need to make our contribution to producing less e-waste by practices such as sustainable consumption and 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). Don’t buy what you don’t need, and recycle devices that have reached the end of their life.

Sunil Herat, Senior Lecturer, Environmental Engineering, Griffith University does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. Article as published in The Conversation.

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Heineken encouraging people to drink less beer?

Heineken has launched a campaign which is designed to make people drink less beer – or as the company puts it to encourage the responsible consumption of its brands.

The new theme, titled ‘Sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers’ continues to use Heineken® to deliver this message.

This initiative encourages aspirational behaviour among adult consumers. Heineken says that it has chosen to launch this programme in the festive season to maximise the impact of the message.

Alexis Nasard, Chief Commercial Officer, said: “Heinken has both the opportunity and the responsibility to encourage moderate drinking. This approach breaks from the norm of traditional responsible consumption messages and takes a progressive stance by showing that drinking responsibly can be aspirational. ‘Sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers’ is a natural next step in our long term commitment to encouraging responsible consumption.”

‘Sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers’, will be executed through the use of various online and offline media channels, with strong emphasis on social media. In the 85 second film ‘The Sunrise’, Heineken®’s legendary hero demonstrates how to celebrate the night to the fullest, including turning down a beer and choosing a bottle of water instead.

Cyril Charzat,Senior Director, Global Heineken Brand, added: “In the film, our ‘man of the world’ brings to life the powerful idea that there are no limits, when you know your limits. We want to show that enjoying Heineken® in moderation can be an integral part of connecting and engaging with friends, meeting new people and exploring new experiences.”

‘Sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers’, will be executed through the use of various online and offline media channels, with strong emphasis on social media. In the 85 second film ‘The Sunrise’, Heineken®’s legendary hero demonstrates how to celebrate the night to the fullest, including turning down a beer and choosing a bottle of water instead.

Cyril Charzat,Senior Director, Global Heineken Brand, added: “In the film, our ‘man of the world’ brings to life the powerful idea that there are no limits, when you know your limits. We want to show that enjoying Heineken® in moderation can be an integral part of connecting and engaging with friends, meeting new people and exploring new experiences.”

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Major Consumer Brands Improve Climate Scores 54%


Major consumer brands continued to make strong progress in corporate climate responsibility (CCR) in the past year, according to the latest review by Climate Counts.

The 2011 assessment results show Climate Counts’ average scores have improved 54% since 2007, while nearly two-thirds of companies improved their standing from 2010. Climate Counts assessed 136 companies in 16 industry sectors for their 5th annual scorecard.

“We’re witnessing a remarkable shift across the corporate community,” says Mike Bellamente, Climate Counts Project Director. “As business risks associated with climate change continue to grow, sustainability is becoming intertwined with long-term strategy at the highest levels of business. Our optimism is tempered by the reality that global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, but corporate leaders appear to be on the right track.”

Climate Counts is most encouraged by the movement at the top end of the rankings this year, with 13 companies scoring 80 points or higher (out of a maximum 100 points), representing more than triple the number of companies to achieve that threshold in 2010.

“Leading edge companies are demonstrating how climate leadership enhances their bottom line,” said Bellamente. “Of the 20 largest companies scored, 17 are scoring at the highest level.”

Unilever emerged as the top company for the first time ever, supplanting Nike, which held the top spot for three consecutive years. Unilever exemplifies the integrated approach to CCR that Climate Counts is seeing from industry leaders. Their “Sustainable Living Plan” enables Unilever to identify every opportunity across their operations to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.

Climate Counts scores the largest companies (by revenue) in 16 industry sectors on their actions to address climate change. The companies are assessed on a 100-point scale based on 22 criteria. The criteria measure a company’s efforts to assess their climate footprint, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support progress on climate legislation, and communicate their efforts clearly and comprehensively to consumers.

This year’s Climate Counts sector leaders are as follows:

  • Airlines: Southwest Airlines (55)
  • Apparel/Accessories: Nike (85)
  • Beverages – Beer: Anheuser-Busch (57)
  • Commercial Banks: Bank of America (82)
  • Consumer Shipping: UPS (80)
  • Electronics: Hewlett-Packard (83)
  • Food Products: Unilever (88)
  • Food Services: Starbucks (70)
  • Home and Office Furnishings: Herman Miller and Masco (63)
  • Hotels: Marriott (73)
  • Household Products: L’Oreal (78)
  • Internet/Software: Microsoft (68)
  • Large Appliances: AB Electrolux (80)
  • Media: General Electric (77)
  • Pharmaceuticals: AstraZeneca (86)
  • Toys & Children’s Equipment: Hasbro (52)

A report and the full 2011 Climate Counts review are available at www.climatecounts.org. The non-profit organization also has a voluntary scoring and benchmarking program called Climate Counts Industry Innovators (i2).

Bart King is a PR consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications, and a regular contributor to Sustainable Life Media.

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Tesco, Swisscom Receive Gigaton Awards

Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group, Gigaton Award Winner George Buckley, CEO, 3M, and Sunil Paul, Founder of the Gigaton Throwdown at the 2010 Gigaton Awards in Cancun. Image courtesy of gigaton-awards.com


UK-based retailer Tesco and Swiss telecommunications company Swisscom are among the companies that received Gigaton Awardsover the weekend celebrating their business leadership in carbon emissions reduction.

The Carbon War Room, the Gigaton Throwdown, and the World Climate Summit gave the awards for “high standards of disclosure, exemplary performance, and inspirational behavior to lead their respective sectors to long term sustainability.”

Tesco has made significant progress reducing emissions from its supply chain and created a Knowledge Hub program showcasing pilots of carbon reduction plans and training.

Judges singled out Swisscom for its portfolio of green ICT products and services that support a more sustainable work and lifestyle for its customers.

Other companies receiving awards include solar panel maker Suntech, electronics and lighting company Philips, industrial power company Schneider Electric and utility Centrica.

“We applaud the 2011 Gigaton winners for their outstanding efforts that will set the industry standard in carbon reduction and sustainability,” said Sir Richard Branson, Co-Founder of the Carbon War Room. “My fellow Academy of judges picked the very best companies from a great shortlist, and we look forward to seeing the ripple effect their efforts will inspire.”

Twenty-five companies were nominated for awards, based on an assessment of performance on a range of metrics, including disclosure, and reductions in the volume and intensity of emissions over the last year. Company data was taken from the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Global 500 Report, which examines the carbon reduction activities at the world’s largest public corporations.

The winners were then selected by the 21-seat independent Academy – including Yvo de Boer, former director general of the UNFCCC; Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC); Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin; Kevin Conrad, Special Envoy and Ambassador for Environment & Climate Change, Papua New Guinea and Prof Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, as well as senior executives from top global companies, politicians and NGOs.

A Special Gigaton prize, newly awarded this year, for the country that has been the most inspiring example for renewable energy and energy efficiency investment and deployment was given to Germany

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Tiffany Releases First-Ever Corporate Responsibility Report

Renowned jeweler Tiffany & Co. released its first-ever corporate responsibility report in conjunction with a new sustainability website.

The report provides insight into Tiffany’s standards and operations regarding the sourcing of precious materials. The company says it works to purchase diamonds either directly from a mine or a supplier that only sources from known mines. In addition, the company uses gold, silver and platinum sourced from responsibly mined metal deposits and recycled sources in the U.S. to minimize environmental and social risks.

Tiffany works with nongovernmental organizations as well as the mining and jewelry industries to improve mining standards, and in an effort to benefit the economies and societies of diamond-producing countries, Tiffany says it has invested in manufacturing operations, as well as employee development and training programs at its cutting and polishing facilities in Belgium, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Vietnam.

In 2010, Tiffany donated close to 2% of pre-tax earnings to charitable purposes, through its Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

The report also states Tiffany’s bags, boxes and catalogues are manufactured with materials certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Tiffany engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide limited assurance on select metrics in the Corporate Responsibility Report. Future reports will show progress and year over year performance comparisons.

“Our position as a leader in the luxury jewelry market gives us the opportunity and the responsibility to set an example for the industry and to conduct our business in a manner that is consistent with our core beliefs—protection of the environment, respect for human rights and support for the communities in which we do business,” said Tiffany & Co. Chairman and CEO Michael J. Kowalski.”

Tiffany & Co. recently joined the United Nations Global Compact, a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption and uses the report to communicate on its progress.

Bart King is a PR consultant and principal of Cleantech Communications, and a fequent contributor to Sustainable Life Media

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Adidas Employee-Run Blog Engages Key Stakeholders on Sustainability Initiatives


When you think about it, with all the progress that had been made with stakeholder engagement, we still know very little about the people behind the corporations. With few rare exceptions, such as Timberland, the best we get is usually a twitter account run by the CEO and maybe a blog managed by the company’s chief sustainability officer. Other than that the face of the corporation stays quite anonymous to most stakeholders. This is why I was happy to learn about the corporate blog of adidasthat is run by its employees. We finally get some names and faces to refer to instead of just a corporate logo.

The new blog is led by Jan Runau, the adidas Group’s Chief Corporate Communication Officer. The idea behind the blog, he explains, is to provide stakeholders with authentic insights and additional background about adidas. Runau adds that “we want to conduct a genuine dialogue with everyone who is interested in what we are doing and want to explain how and why we are doing it.”

The people who conduct this dialogue on behalf of adidas are Verena, Simone, Steve, Moritz and other employees that work in various departments in the adidas group. Altogether I counted a total of 21 employees that write on the blog. What they write about? Various issues related to the company, the sportswear industry in general, and sports. For example, in November you could find an update on their celebration of the 4th National Tracksuit Day (if you didn’t come to work on Nov 4th with your tracksuit on, you’ll have to wait for next year’s celebration), a report on the purchase of outdoor specialist Five Ten by adidas and tips for corporate bloggers inspired by athletes (work on your flexibility just like Lionel Messi).

The blog, which is still rather new, faces couple of interesting challenges that will determine its ability to meet Ruanu’s goals:

Becoming an interactive platform – right now the blog is more of a monologue and less of a dialogue, with very few comments from readers. It is nothing like Adidas Facebook page for example, which is much more interactive. It takes time to build a successful engagement platform, but without more participation of stakeholders, I doubt if the blog will be able to meet its goal of conducting a genuine dialogue. Maybe opening the blog to posts written by customers, NGOs, community leaders and other stakeholders could help create a live dialogue.

Opening its gates for more employees – the blog is populated at the moment with corporate employees. You won’t find there employees that work in adidas stores, which is something I hope to see changed in the future. Store employees can provide a very interesting perspective not just about adidas, but also about its customers. Do customers, for example, actually care about adidas’ efforts to reach zero discharge following Greenpeace Detox campaign? Right now you can’t really tell, and I think it would be interesting for adidas as well as for other stakeholders to get such reports from the company’s stores.

Exercising some flexibility – this blog is not an objective media outlet, so don’t expect to find there any criticism on adidas. As Frank Thomas, who is a member of the Corporate PR team and one of this blog’s moderators wrote: “This is a corporate blog which has to contribute to our company’s success just like everything else we do.” This is fine with me – you can’t and shouldn’t expect employees to bite the hand that feeds them. Nevertheless, if this blog will allow an open discussion on issues that might not present adidas in a positive way, it will gain a lot of credibility and respect from stakeholders.

Identifying the material issues – If adidas really wants this blog to become an effective tool to engage with stakeholders, it needs to learn what issues stakeholders find important and address them. This blog doesn’t have to be only about these issues, and it can definitely keep reporting on sports and add fun posts, but it should also make sure that in general it talks about the issues stakeholders care about, and not just the issues adidas care about (if the two are identical, then there’s no problem, but this is not always the case).

With all these challenges, this blog is still a refreshing effort to create a more personalized dialogue between a corporation and its stakeholders. Let’s hope other companies will follow suit and let us get a closer look on what they do and how they do it through their employees. Eventually companies might be surprised to find out such a blog is an easy and effective way to give stakeholders what Runau calls “a personal and holistic picture of the company behind the brands.”

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. Article as posted by Sustainable Life Media.

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Nike & Puma, Reframing the Sustainability Message for a Younger Market

2011 has been a big year for the cause of sustainability in sports and athletics.  In March, we saw the launch of the Green Sports Alliance, a nonprofit organization founded by a collection of Pacific Northwest pro-sport teams and facilities in partnership with the NRDC.  Since then, the coalition for furthering sustainable practices throughout the sports industry has grown to nearly 70 members and partners spanning all major North American pro leagues.  We have also seen a race between Nike and Puma for breakaway leadership in sustainability of sports apparel.

In January of this year, Nike launched its cutting-edge website dedicated to its sustainability brand, NikeBetterWorld.com.  Although the sustainable content is noteworthy, Nike received more attention for the innovative HTML5 scroll down design.  In May, Puma released its first Environmental Profit and Loss statement, valuing its GHG impacts at $194 Million USD, the first such triple bottom line documentation in its class.

This November, both Nike and Puma have been making headlines.  Nike released its Material Sustainability Index (MSI) via Earthster, sharing its framework developed from years of sustainability research, design and collaboration. The index is only available to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition but Nike plans to release it to the public in 2012.  Puma just announced its current research and development of compostable clothing and footware.

In case anyone forgot who really is king of the sustainable athletic market, this fall Patagonia threw in its curve ball campaign announcing its partnership with eBay to encourage customers to “Buy Less.” The partnership endorses and encourages a secondhand market for Patagonia’s products.

In many ways there are similarities between the sustainability branding campaigns and initiatives of Nike and Puma.  Both companies are adopting the cradle-to-cradle framework to their systems and designing processes.  Both companies committed to the challenge presented by Greenpeace to eliminate any discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020, forming the Joint Roadmap Towards Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals along with competitor Adidas.

When it came to creating the brand of sustainability at each organization, both Nike and Puma adopted a strategy of creating a movement around reframing the word “sustainability.” Although both movements targeted demographically similar markets, the respective target customers have diverging sensibilities.

Nike reframed its sustainability message so their young customers can relate and be motivated to action.  Nike’s simple and clear “Better World” calls it like it is, much like its predecessor, “Just Do It.” Beginning with the highly acclaimed recycled advertisement, the website tells the story of how sports and Nike have been the vehicles of making the world a better place.  The message is consistent with the tone to which Nike’s consumer tribe has become accustomed and expect.

Puma also strives for simplicity, branding its sustainability as PumaVision.  In other words, a better world as Puma sees it: Fair, Honest, Positive and Creative. It is broken down into sub-sections of PumaSafe (safeguarding the environment), PumaPeace (promoting social justice) and PumaCreative (leveraging the arts for positive change).  Arguably, Puma has taken a more traditional or conservative approach to communicating its sustainability brand.  However, Puma clearly understands its market who seek information is a more traditional format.

Nike and Puma further diverge when implementing communication methods.  Through these channels, each of their core cultures becomes more evident.  CEO and Chairman Jochen Zeitz has been at the forefront of Puma’s sustainability messaging, presenting himself as Puma’s sustainability brand ambassador. Based on the PR, it is clear that Zeitz is the face and driver behind Puma’s sustainability brand and vision.  Zeitz recently participated in an online town-hall conversation with readers of the Guardian Sustainable Business blog.  Nike, on the other had, has taken a much more systemic approach, dispersing its leverage over a large team of department executives, advertising and social media, focusing much of its effort on innovation through collaboration.

Both Nike and Puma have catapulted the sports apparel industry into the media spotlight many times over this past year.  It will be interesting to see how the PR of 2011 develops into the actions of 2012.

Izabel Loinaz is the CEO of Spring Partners, Inc. and a GRI certified sustainable business consultant focusing on the sport, fitness and wellness industries.

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