Apr 142008

My friend and ex colleague DJ Collins, now at Google texted me this morning about this great piece in yesterday’s Independent. In the last two weeks I’ve written about how finance and market power are increasingly being used to quantify the value of the services that rainforests provide to Planet Earth Ltd. Now here’s an example of technology playing its role. As one of the directors of Canopy Capital said in a quote I used in a previous post, “How can it be that Google’s services are worth billions but those from all the world’s rainforests amount to nothing?” So it’s good to see Google harnessing its existing technology for the benefit of threatened tribes people in the Amazon rainforest. Most high tech firms like Google have relatively low direct environmental impacts, because they don’t manufacture anything as such and the bulk of their environmental footprint would, like Weber Shandwick’s, be largely office-based, along with some travel. By using the power of their knowledge and resources in this way, companies like Google have the potential to be net benefactors to the planet (excluding all the indirect footprints of their services, such as the shopping decisions people make by using search engines). When it comes to illegal logging, we know we need a mixture of incentives (which only the marketplace can provide) and tougher regulations (governments, stand up please). But we need to deploy the most advanced technology too, which is why Google’s help for the Surui people is both timely and welcome. If every technology company in the world devoted just a small part of its resources to tackling the planetary crisis, just think what we could achieve.

Apr 102008

In times of economic uncertainty, if not complete meltdown, people rightly ask about the fate of corporate responsibility and the priority given to environmental concerns. Not least because the rapid growth of strategic CSR in recent years has taken place against a generally stable financial backdrop. Some argue that recession, or the threat of recession, means CSR is the first ‘luxury’ to go as companies tighten belts and focus on the short-term bottom line. But this is to misunderstand what corporate responsibility is about, and why companies engage in it.Certainly, for the company that has yet to embark on a deeply embedded CSR strategy, the fate of any plans hang in the balance as the threat of hard times looms. For the firm that views CSR as a ‘nice to have’, or as little more than philanthropy, it is unlikely to prosper until the economic downturn passes. But CSR is not about philanthropy, and many companies have now embedded it to such an extent that it is simply a part of the way in which they do business. It forms the core DNA of their modus operandi, and in that sense is much harder to undo. Not to mention the cost savings that properly executed CSR brings, through more prudent use of natural resources, a highly motivated workforce, reputational benefits, a bank of goodwill with non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders, and improved investor relations. Done well, corporate responsibility is a profit centre, not a cost.Companies well down the path of corporate responsibility excellence are unlikely to dismantle their CSR strategies, because they can’t. And in communications terms, as competition for sales and market share becomes even harder in a recession, ethics form a key part of the corporate tool box.Unilever, long a leader in sustainability, is not about to abandon its long established and praised approach to CSR, its new partnership on certified sustainable tea with Rainforest Alliance, or its commitments on climate change and water stewardship. Timberland is not going to drop its progressive ethical stance, and nor will Gap and Nike risk a return to the times when they faced boycotts and crippling litigation over Asian sweatshop factories. For these companies, getting the ethical agenda right is absolutely core to their survival. Some might even argue it is as critical as a healthy financial climate.Corporate responsibility saves money, builds reputation, and provides whole new angles for communication, across all the marketing disciplines. It builds and cements a bond of trust between a brand and its customers. In times of economic hardship, that trust has a greater value than ever.

Apr 092008

Loved this story in the Guardian about how a new condom making venture could help keep the Brazilian rainforest standing, as it were. Yet another example of the growing efforts to show forests can be worth more left standing than cut down. More serious is this piece about the perils of planting fake activists in campaign groups to try to undermine them. I’m no fan of BAA (having again experienced their ‘customer service’ at a hopelessly chaotic London Heathrow on Sunday evening), but I’m relieved to see they weren’t behind this foolhardy strategy. It’s extraordinary that people think this kind of covert operation can still work without the risk, dare I say it, of exposure. It turns out the campaigners were a bit smarter than the mole on this one. Sad to think the chap involved couldn’t find a better use for his Oxford degree. Lastly, this video clip is a good reminder about the perils of not adapting our transport systems to a fast growing population. If you thought the London tube system was bad, take a look! And then imagine our planet in 2050…

Apr 092008

Following Unilever’s recent move to Rainforest Alliance certified tea for PG Tips, more good news for UK ethical shopping market today as Costa Coffee unveils its big plans for Rainforest Alliance coffee across the UK. As far as I’m aware this is the first time a big coffee chain has decided to convert its whole supply to Rainforest Alliance certified in the UK. It’s hard to miss Rainforest Alliance products these days. You’ll find certified coffee in an ever growing number of places, large and small, from McDonalds to Pret a Manger, in office canteens, airport lounges, and soon Costa! Factor in PG Tips’ certified tea, Innocent Drinks’ smoothies (100% of their bananas come from Rainforest Alliance certified plantations), Kenco’s ever growing range of sustainable coffees, and some more exciting plans in the pipeline, Rainforest Alliance has now gone mainstream in Britain. It’s great news for farmers, consumers, and the companies doing the right thing.