Category Archives: CSR

A Founder With a Vision: Triple Bottom Line Sustainability at Virgin Group

Co-Authored by Joy De Bach (Virgin Atlantic, Regional Commercial Director, East Region), Gabriela Salas (Virgin Atlantic, Global Sales Executive, East Region), & Karen Titus (Delta Air Lines, National Sales Account Executive, Global Sales)

October 18th, 2017

Being a billionaire has afforded Sir Richard Branson many opportunities in life, but after decades of disrupting some of the world’s biggest industries, his latest passion projects have less to do with flying planes and mobile phones and more to do with saving the world.  As employees of Virgin Atlantic and Delta (Virgin’s partner airline), we were fortunate to be able to see Richard at the Authors@Wharton Speaker Series yesterday, and were once again reminded of what an entrepreneurial spirit and compassion for the environment and human rights can do to change the world.

Having recently experienced the devastation of Irma on his Necker Island residence, climate change literally hit Richard, his family, and his employees with the strength of a hurricane.  But rather than dwell on the negative, he spoke of rebuilding infrastructures throughout the islands to come back better than ever before, and views climate change as ‘one of the great opportunities for this world’, encouraging the business sector and entrepreneurs globally to tackle the issues of global warming.

When asked by host, Professor Adam Grant, what his next venture will be, Sir Richard emphasized that he’s setting his sights on the future, focusing on non-profit initiatives to tackle carbon emissions, global human rights, and creating sustainable fuels, just to name a few.  Now, you might think that a mogul with three airlines in the Virgin portfolio which guzzle fuel crossing oceans and continents and saving the environment shouldn’t necessarily be in the same sentence, however Richard and his Virgin Group are achieving just that.  Just take a look at some highlights from the 2017 Virgin Sustainability Report:

  • 8% reduction on total aircraft emissions from 2015 to 2016
  • Continuation of partnership with LanzaTech to create the world’s first commercially viable, low carbon jet fuel from waste carbon gases
  • Installation of solar energy powering an entire secondary school campus and two water systems in Kenya
  • Review and refresh of Virgin’s Responsible Supplier Policy based on international standards of human rights
  • Announcement of a further investment in efficient aircraft with 12 A350-1000s to become part of our fleet from 2019

Yesterday, we were reminded of what a cool boss we have.  We’ve been fortunate to work for and with a man whose vision and compassion could one day further revolutionize the way people travel, consume energy and communicate, as he’s already done for decades.  For the young entrepreneurs of tomorrow, who were able to see Richard speak, we hope some of them heard his rallying cry and will join him in changing the world.

 

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Creating the Next Generation of Business Leaders

By Erin Meezan, CSO, Interface, Inc.

Last week, on the 10th Anniversary of the formation of the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), the organization hosted an energizing conference focused on The Future of Education In Business Sustainability. I was honored to participate on a panel of business leaders including Johnson & Johnson, Interface, Coca-Cola and others, and offer perspective on what skills and experiences are required for future business leaders.

The pivotal point of discussion surrounded how business schools should prepare students for sustainable business management. Should curriculum focus on creating graduates with strong foundational business skills combined with an understanding of how to implement sustainable business practices, such as supply chain management? Or, should schools aim to form ethically-minded, collaborative business leaders who have the capacity to lead the organizational change necessary to solve the world’s greatest challenges? The former approach seems wholly inadequate for creating the next generation of business leaders. But sadly, it’s what most business school programs are focused on creating.

As the Chief Sustainability Officer for Interface, a global carpet tile manufacturer with sustainability at its core, I’ve seen the skills and capabilities needed in our business evolve dramatically over the last ten years. When Interface first began its transition toward a more sustainable business model, we needed business leaders with strong business knowledge who were willing to “learn sustainability.” They needed to know how to implement ideas like zero-waste and closed-loop thinking in our factories. But we never would have started to transform our business if our founder, Ray Anderson, had not recognized that the way we were running Interface, divorced from the consequences of our decisions and their impacts on people and planet, was ethically wrong. He called it a “spear in the chest moment” when he realized our business was fundamentally flawed, and so he set a new vision for Interface. Interface has made great progress to reduce its environmental impacts, and we’ve done it with a fantastic set of business leaders who “learned sustainability.” But as we look toward the future and start creating, promoting and finding the next generation of Interface business leaders, we need something different.

Last summer, Interface’s new leadership team, building on Ray’s legacy, set a new mission for the business – engineer a “climate take back.” In response to the threat of global climate change, we’ve committed to run our business in a way that creates a climate fit for life. And we hope to inspire other businesses to follow our lead. This means, simply, we have to move beyond the mindset of just reducing our carbon emissions – we need to focus on removing carbon from the atmosphere. We’re creating a map for how we as manufacturers can achieve this goal. We’ll focus on how we can source materials, run our operations and create products that remove carbon from the atmosphere. When I think about hiring the next generation of business leaders at Interface to help us lead this revolutionary approach, I think about those ethically-minded, collaborative leaders who can go way beyond implementing sustainable business practices, to designing solutions in our business that help change the world. And I hope that I will be able to find and hire them.

An Interview with Maddie Macks, VP of Academics for the Wharton Graduate Association

Submitted by Mary Johnston, WG’18

Mary conducted an interview with Maddie Macks, VP of Academics for the Wharton Graduate Association. Maddie is in charge of Academics as part of Wharton’s Student Government, and is one of the founding members of the Wharton Sustainability Club.

 

Q: Why is Sustainability an important topic for MBAs?

A: First, resources are finite, and many industries including agribusiness, CPG, manufacturing, and energy rely on these materials for their business. My peers, as future business leaders, will be in positions where they are making supply chain, sourcing and operations decisions and will need to steward these resources to mitigate risk.

Second, while the U.S. federal government is currently trending toward deregulation, this is not the trend globally, as evidenced by The Paris Agreement. Many of my peers will be working in international companies where these regulations will be increasingly relevant.

Further, business decisions can have a big impact on local communities. For example, public health can be heavily impacted by water and air quality, and degradation of local ecosystems can impact livelihoods.

 

Q: What are other top business schools doing in their Sustainability Curricula?

A: They are ramping up their sustainability presence, offering certificates and more specific coursework. Many are integrating sustainability more into their core curriculum to ensure all students are educated on environmental issues in business. Almost all top business schools have sustainability-focused student clubs to build a community in the space on campus. Stanford, Sloan, Ross, and Yale are a few prime examples of schools that are increasing their presence in the space, and it’s attracting top students.

 

Q: What does Wharton do well now in terms of Sustainability?

A: Wharton has partnered with IGEL to offer the Environmental & Risk Management Major, which is one of the things that attracted me to Wharton. The Energy Club, Social Impact Club, and Agribusiness Club have sustainability-related programming, and as of this year, we have a group of about thirty students starting the Wharton Sustainable Business Coalition, a new club that will be up and running by Fall 2017. This group of students has also gotten to know each other well during the Energy Club’s clean energy trek to San Francisco as well as several student-run happy hours.

 

Q: What are the biggest opportunities for Wharton to increase the presence of Sustainability in the curriculum in the short term?

A: There are two things I think Wharton can do in the short term.

First, Wharton could incorporate more Environmental Responsibility content into the Business Ethics core requirement. This would help ensure that every Wharton student gets more exposure to how decision-making can have environmental consequences.

Second, Wharton could proactively ensure all relevant graduate coursework from around Penn related to Sustainable Business topics is cross-listed with Wharton to help facilitate students taking these classes. For example, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences has several great courses.

 

Q: And how about the long term?

A: Wharton has an opportunity to continue to develop coursework related to sustainability and look into hiring more faculty who can teach courses and do research in the area. Wharton has such a huge opportunity to influence future business leaders’ decision-making, and making sustainability more present in Wharton’s curriculum would speak volumes to the issue’s importance. For example, the Environmental Risk & Management Major does a great job covering risk management, and I would love to see innovation and the financial implications of environmental choices highlighted more prominently as well. I also think there are opportunities to offer more sustainability courses as part of the Business Economics and Public Policy, Operations, Information, and Decisions, and Management Majors to name a few. Incorporating more of a focus on sustainability, can help Wharton stay on the cutting edge of business trends.

Exclusive Offer for Sustainable Brands CSR Conference

Submitted by Karina Newman, Community Engagement Coordinator, Sustainable Brands

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Progress on Sustainability Initiatives at Major Consumer Product Companies (Part 1)

Submitted by Rekha Menon-Varma (WG ’06), Managing Partner, Vertaeon LLC

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Leading consumer product companies have embraced corporate sustainability, from setting mid to long term goals to driving alignment with business objectives. In addition to resource scarcity, increasing regulations, and ever expanding global supply chains, these companies also face changing consumer expectations. A decade ago, I was debating aspects of profit maximization, considering all stakeholders rights and the conflicts (in interests) it could bring about, at our business law class at Wharton. Today, leaders like Unilever, Nestle and Coca-Cola have demonstrated how to strike the right balance in implementing Sustainability initiatives.

Here at Vertaeon, our focus on sustainability strategy, resources and supply chain made us curious about goal-setting in consumer product companies (CPG). Sustainability goals in leading CPG companies ranged from operational (reducing/managing resource consumption, emissions, safe workplace) to supply chain (sustainable sourcing and reducing waste and carbon footprint of supply chain) to social impact. There has also been discussions and actions on business model and product innovation. However, as Clayton Christensen put it in a recent conversation* success in business model innovation is not easy even for leaders. Balancing innovation with social and environmental drivers make it even more complex to design and implement.

Being focused on data analytics and having experienced the power of data in ensuring successful Sustainability initiatives, we went searching for consolidated data on Sustainability goals at CPG companies and found it on Andrew Winston’s Pivot Goals site**. As a first pass, we looked at three sub-sectors including Food, Beverage, and Household and Personal Care. Within these, we assessed fifteen companies and fourteen KPIs including: Climate, Energy, Renewable, Fuel, Air, GHG, Water, Waste, Forest, Safety, Packaging, Food & Ag, Products and Distribution.

Our goal was to identify past focus areas and undertake some level of sector and company benchmarking and gap identification that could (a) yield higher visibility into goal-setting and (b) identify improvement options. For analysis purposes, each goal was reduced to the main message and assigned to one of four buckets/goal areas, categorized by Vertaeon, as Operations, Supply Chain, Products and Community. Progress along these four broad buckets is the primary focus of this analysis. In total, we assessed 19 goal types, 12 focus areas and 155 goals. Considering, ‘what’s measured is managed’, we also split goals with specific targets and progress from those with No Reported Change. Community bucket showed up mainly under ‘no reported change’. (Ref: Charts 2 & 3).

[For detailed analytics related to peer benchmarking and company performance, please contact us at http://www.vertaeon.com]

Key Findings

Operational goals lead the way:

It is no surprise that companies focused on their operations. 51% of the goals are related to reduction targets; GHG (11%), energy (9%), water (10%) and waste (14%) combined with improving recycling (5%), safety and renewable energy. Traditionally, reduction goals have been viewed as cost reduction opportunities; however, as CPG customers, retailers and consumers, demand more from their supply chain, operational initiatives will continue to stay at the forefront of sustainability. Vertaeon’s Integrated Analytics™ platform provides opportunities to further leverage, through in-depth analytics, the operational data collected as part of these initiatives to identify actionable operational improvements.

Supply chain offers new KPI opportunities:

Sustainable sourcing leads overall goals; however, this can be attributed to high coverage by Unilever and P&G (20/27 or 74%). Supply chain goals currently under focus in the CPG sector are improving sustainable sourcing (17%), reducing GHG emissions in supply chain (6%) and transportation (2%). This analysis indicates a vital need for more players to adapt goals/KPIs in the areas of reducing GHG and Carbon footprints, reducing packaging waste and improving sustainable sourcing of raw materials and packaging along the supply chain.

CHART 1

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Product goals as prevalent as supply chain goals (Ref: Chart 2):

While leading players such as Unilever, Nestle, Coca-Cola & Pepsi have embarked on product nutrition and sustainability goals, overall there is still considerable room for improving product sustainability within these consumer sectors. Here again, we will see more KPIs as consumers demand higher levels of nutrition and impact labeling. Current product goals focus on health & wellness (13%) and packaging (6%).

CHART 2

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Goals with no reported change (Ref: Chart 3):

The Community section leads the pack here with goals in community (13%), water availability (9%) and health & wellness (6%). This offers opportunities to set specific targets and monitoring for community and social impact and assess investment priorities as well as impact. Other notable ‘no change’ goals came up in Water (Operations), Food & Ag (Supply Chain) and Health & Wellness (Products). This could suggest there is room for setting additional targets and subsequently monitoring changes here as well.

CHART 3

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In Conclusion

This preliminary assessment of Sustainability goal-setting and currently reported goals at leading CPG companies indicate a primary focus on Operational goals. While Product and Supply chain goals are increasingly becoming part of sustainability initiatives at the leading companies, there is room for further adoption in this sector. The focus on Operational goals presents the unique opportunity for companies to leverage the operational data collected as part of goal-tracking to identify opportunities for improvement. As mentioned at the outset, the heterogeneity in consumer expectations has not yet fully translated to goal-setting or reporting. A recent publication by NC State University*** found that consumers see other dimensions (e.g. risk & compliance, social justice) of interest than those put forth by the GRI framework, thereby suggesting a disconnect between corporate sustainability reporting and stakeholder views and interests. Understanding of consumer demographics and preferences via segmentation and translating insights to product and engagement strategies can address this.

Blog Contributors: Danielle Boccelli, Data Analyst, Vertaeon LLC & Vipin Varma (WG’11, IGEL Alumni Advisory Board), Co-Founder, Vertaeon LLC

*Building a business creation engine, MIT Sloan Webinar, January 2017 **www.pivotgoals.com, A. Winston in collaboration with Jeff Gowdy                          ***Study finds current corporate sustainability reporting misses the mark, M. Bradford et al., NC State University, January 2017

Collaboration, Innovation and Sharing: Turning Circular Supply Chain Vision into Reality

By Todd Hoff, VP Marketing and Customer Solutions, CHEP North America

When many of us were young, our parents taught us to share because it is polite and a nice thing to do. Today, as the world faces significant population growth and the environmental challenges that follow, the concept of sharing is a key building block in the long-term strategy to build a better world.

Experts say that the global population is expected to grow from 7.5 billion today to nearly 10 billion by 2050, adding more than two billion consumers to the global economy that will need access to safe, affordable and nutritious food and personal care products.

For decades, the fast-moving consumer goods industry has kept pace with growing population and consumer demands thanks to the development of innovative agricultural, manufacturing and supply chain practices. In recent years, academics, industry leaders, economic and sustainability thought leaders and efficiency experts have been collaborating to develop equally innovative plans for successfully meeting the challenges of the future.

That is where the concept of sharing comes in. Moving beyond the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle, stakeholders in the global economy have developed a vision of a Circular Economy, powered by a Circular Supply Chain that produces zero waste and zero carbon emissions. The fundamental building block of a Circular Supply Chain is shared and reusable assets.

At CHEP, our business model is based on shared and reusable assets. We move consumer goods throughout the world on more than 300 million reusable pallets, containers and crates that are used over-and-over again by our customers. We are committed to the vision of a Circular Supply Chain and bringing it to life through ongoing collaboration with our customers, thought leaders and stakeholders around the globe.

On February 8th, CHEP partnered with the Wharton School’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania for a thought leadership event entitled,  Connecting the Dots: Sustainability Through a Circular Economy. CHEP teamed up with visionary stakeholders – a major packaging manufacturer; a multinational food, snack and beverage corporation; a grocery retailer and a leading consumer research company. They each discussed their sustainability efforts and collaboration in helping to turn the vision of a Circular Supply Chain into reality.

A recent study by McKinsey & Company shows that the consumer goods supply chain is fertile ground for both efficiency and sustainable savings presently and over the long-term. That is intriguing, because our focus at CHEP is collaborating with our customers to optimize and improve the sustainability of the supply chain.

Through our end-to-end supply chain solutions, we help our customers save money, become more efficient and more sustainable. For instance in the past 12 months, when it comes to sustainability, we have helped customers keep 1.4 million trees on the planet and eliminate 2.3 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, equivalent to taking more than 485,000 passenger vehicles off US roads. We’ve also removed 1.3 million tonnes of waste from landfills, eliminated 3 million empty truck miles and avoided more than 3,000 tonnes of food from being damaged during transport.

In collaborating with our customers, CHEP and its parent company, Brambles, have been recognized by the leading Circular Economy foundation and a major grocery retailer as a key component of the Circular Supply Chain because of our shared and reusable business model.

We are excited about developing an efficient and sustainable global supply chain that benefits people and the planet for generations to come. We are equally proud to partner with our customers and leading stakeholders to achieve a Circular Economy and a Circular Supply Chain, through sharing our experiences at Connecting the Dots.

Visit www.chep.com for more information or follow us on Twitter @CHEPna and LinkedIn. Please also check out our YouTube channel.

PSR Presents: The Business of Sustainability

By Samantha Freeman

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On Saturday, November 19th, my Management 100 team hosted a conference in John H. Huntsman Hall on behalf of Penn Sustainability Review. This conference, The Business of Sustainability, explored the intersection between business and sustainability. Our keynote speaker was David Cohen, Chairman of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and an Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. Our panel included Morgan Berman, CEO and Co-Founder of MilkCrate; Melissa Lee, CEO and Founder of The GREEN Program; Jason Halpern, CEO and Co-Founder of Gridless Power; and Emily Schapira, Campaign Director for the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA). Together, these speakers and panelists answered the long-standing question: How can the sustainability efforts of businesses both small and large lead to significant change?

My team, Flight Club, kept two main goals in mind when planning this conference. We wanted to 1) promote the discussion of sustainability issues among the Penn population, and 2) increase name recognition and interest in PSR. With over 130 Penn students in attendance, the conference successfully raised awareness for the academic discourse community PSR has created. Furthermore, the dozens of questions received for the panel and several students’ newfound interest in writing articles post-conference revealed that sustainability is a topic that truly sparks the curiosity of the Penn population. We are so excited to see how PSR will keep bringing this enthusiasm to new heights over the next few years.

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Around 1 pm on Saturday, students began entering F85. They happily stacked their plates with Chipotle burritos and Zesto’s Pizza, then found a seat and waited for introductions from Lori Rosenkopf, Vice Dean of the Wharton Undergraduate Program, and Julianne Goodman, Editor-In-Chief of PSR. Following these introductions, David Cohen spoke for twenty minutes on Comcast’s commitment to sustainability and future of sustainable investments for businesses. Comcast’s LEED-certified buildings were one point of focus. Comcast Center, in downtown Philadelphia, utilizes high-performance glass and sunscreens and water-saving fixtures to reduce expenses and energy consumption. As Comcast builds more structures like these, the corporation remains committed to delivering its services in a manner that lessons its environmental footprint.

Around 1:50 pm, the panel began its discussion, moderated by Penn graduate student Emily Newton. As the panelists shared the stories behind their businesses and how they got involved with sustainability, one thing became clear: All a person needs to start building an idea is a personal commitment to the issue at hand. For Morgan Berman and Melissa Lee especially, an independent goal to live more sustainably blossomed into a plan for a company that would allow others to do the same. Following the initial round of questions, audience members were welcome to ask their own. Several students were interested in hearing the answer to this question: What small things can I do? As they learned from the panelists, regardless of how miniscule the activity may be (for example, carrying a reusable water bottle over a plastic one), anything counts, and every great decision can have an even more substantial impact.

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My team thoroughly enjoyed working with PSR over the course of the semester, and we hope everyone who attended our conference found the experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as we did. If you are interested in learning more about the featured businesses or want to know what you can do to promote sustainability, please reach out to our panelists, whose contact information is listed below. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Julianne Goodman, Hersh Solanski, and Elena Rohner for their guidance, and we thank you all for flying with us.

 

Panelists’ Contact Information:

Morgan Berman: Morgan@mymilkcrate.com

Jason Halpern: Halpern@gridless.com

Melissa Lee: Melissa@theGREENprogram.com

Emily Schapira: eschapira@philaenergy.org

Environmental Catastrophes: The Buck Stops in the C-Suite!

By Lawrence B. Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group

Introduction

Corporate environmental, health and safety (EHS) programs require a substantial commitment on the part of executive management in order to be successful.  Programs, policies, and procedures must be defined and implemented, resources committed, audits assessing performance conducted, deficiencies corrected, and improvements made.  If all goes well, there is a presumption that unwanted surprises and incidents will be rare, resulting in fewer management headaches and no material adverse personal consequences for senior managers.  Truly a win-win for both the company and its executives.

Sadly, it is not always the case that senior corporate executives participate actively in EHS programs.  A passive approach is much more common as EHS compliance and performance is often deemed to be the sole responsibility of EHS and Sustainability Managers in the organization.  This passive approach can be perilous for both the individual executive and the company.  Senior executives should be involved actively and there are ways to test whether this involvement is real or not.  What follows is a discussion of why participation and commitment are important and a way to test whether it is truly happening in a given organization.

Why Commitment is Important to the Executive

Some believe that environmental incidents and catastrophes will have an impact on a company’s reputation but will not directly affect senior corporate executives.  For example, a recent column in the on-line Environmental Leader was entitled “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits.”[1]  The column refers to a study published in the Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics entitled “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits”.[2]  This study, based on almost 10,000 cases filed in U.S. federal court over an eight-year period from 2000-2007, concluded that there was:

“…no evidence of any reputational penalty for CEOs following environmental allegations against their companies,” [University of Adelaide, South Australia] business school lecturer Dr. Chelsea Liu told Environmental Leader. “This means that the executive labor market, driven by the collective actions of corporations in the marketplace, is not inclined to ‘shun’ those CEOs whose firms are accused of environmental violations. This is very different from how the market reacts to allegations of financial fraud —prior research shows that CEOs whose firms are accused of financial fraud do experience significant reputational damage.”

Yet, actual notable cases in recent history would appear to contradict the study’s conclusions.  There are any number of instances where very senior executives, including several CEOs, have had their reputations permanently sullied and some have even been sentenced to prison for negligence with respect to EHS mismanagement.  These include the following five cases:

  • Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). Warren Anderson, the then CEO of UCC, and seven other employees were sentenced to 2 years in prison in June 2010 for negligence (the maximum allowed by Indian Law) as a result to the December 1984 Methyl Isocyanate release in Bhopal, India, which killed an estimated 4,000 people and injured another 500,000.  Anderson died in Florida in 2014 at the age of 92 and served no prison time in India as he was not extradited.  Interestingly, “Bhopal protestors” picket the Dow Chemical Headquarters in Midland, MI every year at the annual shareholders meeting.  Dow purchased the assets of UCC in 2001, a full 17 years after the incident.  Should the Dow/DuPont merger announced in December 2015 go through one wonders if the protesters will picket in Wilmington, DE as well, the historical headquarters of DuPont.  Not something that executives in either company presumably relish.
  • BP. After a 28-year career with BP, Tony Hayward, the now ex-CEO, was forced to resign on October 1, 2010 as a result of the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ironically, Mr. Hayward had replaced Lord John Browne as CEO in 2007 who resigned partly as a result of the BP Texas City Refinery fire that killed 15 people in 2005.
  • Massey Energy. Don Blankenship, the now ex-CEO of Massey Energy, was forced to resign on December 3, 2010 after the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners.  On April 6, 2016, Mr. Blankenship was sentenced to one year in prison for “conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards.”
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Three former TEPCO executives were indicted for negligence on February 29, 2016 as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown caused by a March 2011 tsunami.  In March 2015, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,894 deaths, 6,152 injuries and 2,562 people missing as a result of the tsunami.
  • Volkswagen. The now ex-CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, was forced to resign on September 23, 2015 as a result of the 2015 “Clean Diesel Scandal” in the U.S.  Winterkorn accepted responsibility for the scandal while asserting that he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”  Volkswagen and its executives face possible criminal enforcement action from the U.S. Department of Justice and over 25 State Attorneys General.

It is pretty clear then that there are indeed personal consequences for senior executives when significant EHS incidents occur.  Any individual sitting in one of the chairs in the C-Suite would do themselves a favor by becoming more involved in the company’s EHS management.  And in fact, senior management reviews are a mandatory requirement of ISO 9000 (Quality), ISO 14000 (Environment) and OSHA 18000 (Health and Safety) management system standards often adopted by organizations to better govern operations.  For example, ISO 14000 requires the following: “Top management shall review the organization’s environmental management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.”[3]  And indeed, there are companies, such as Occidental Petroleum, where members of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors regularly review actual site EHS audit reports.  Although this particular activity should not be relied upon exclusively for assurance purposes, it does provide valuable information on both leading and lagging EHS compliance and performance indicators.

Evaluating Executives’ Commitment

How then does one test whether key executives have an understanding of the implementation and results (and potential consequences) of the company’s EHS management and programs?  One way is to interview these key executives as part of an annual review of EHS program performance.  This annual review can be conducted internally or through a third party.  The evaluation should involve a detailed review of policies and procedures, interviews with a sample of executives at various levels of the organization, and testing the implementation of the EHS program at the site level through assessments or audits at a sample of operating facilities.

The interviewing of key executives is, then, a key component of an EHS program evaluation. In conducting these interviews any interviewer must be diligent, thorough but also respectful of the executive’s time. They are very busy people.  The questions provided below in Table 1 can be used to address and test an individual executive’s involvement and commitment.  It’s important to note that each executive must tailor his or her involvement to best support the organization as effectively as possible.  So, the interviewer should not assume that any given executive should be involved in all the aspects suggested by the questions.  For example, one executive might be involved in the setting of corporate EHS policy and sustainability goals, while another might be responsible for implementing programs within his or her division to achieve those goals, while still others might actually visit plants in their business units periodically to assess site-level performance and gather feedback on the challenges the site management experiences in meeting the goals.

Based on actual experience the questions can be covered in 30-45 minutes. Face-to-face interviews are preferred but a phone interview or video conference can be used as well with comparable results.  Note that the questions are designed to elicit more than a yes/no response.  The interviewer might also discover that the executive will request to see the questions in advance.  That is perfectly acceptable and might actually produce a more productive session as there is a good chance that the executive will have given the questions considerable thought in advance.  In some cases, they will have actually written-out their answers which can enhance the face-to-face discussion.

TABLE 1: Ten Questions to Test an Executive’s Involvement in a Corporate EHS Program

Area of Inquiry Question
1. Personal Involvement What has been your involvement with the corporate EHS program to date?
2. Program Objectives Do you understand the objectives of the program? What are they? Do you believe the objectives are being met? Why or why not?
3. Program Effectiveness Do you believe the program is effective, adequately resourced, and adds value? Specifically, why or why not?
4. Organizational Setting Do you believe that the program is positioned within the organization so as to achieve the appropriate independence and authority? If not, what could or should be done?
5. Stakeholder Involvement Are the concerns of all stakeholders’ (e.g., management, employees, stockholders, regulators, NGO’s, communities) being considered appropriately? Any stakeholders’ interests that are under-represented?
6. Management of Change Is management of change a key component of the program?  If so, how do you know?  If not, why not?
7. Risk Identification Does the program adequately identify and define the key EHS risks faced by the company?  In your estimation, what are the top three risks?
8. Program Outputs Do you see what you need to see with regards to the outputs of the program? If not, what would you like to see that you don’t see now?
9. Corrective Actions Is there sufficient management attention given to correcting identified program deficiencies and needed improvements in a timely fashion? How do you know?
10. Improvements What is the EHS program doing well and should continue to do? If you could change or add one thing to the program to make it better what would that be?

Note that the very last question is extremely important. So, the interviewer has to be careful to manage the interview process so that there will be time for it to be asked and answered.  Executives are very smart and savvy people.  Asking them to identify one thing they might change or add to the EHS program to make it better will often elicit some sage advice and maybe even some “out of the box” thinking.

Closure

Executive participation in and commitment to EHS performance is one key to assuring company-wide compliance and potentially avoiding catastrophes. Experience shows that there is no guarantee that executive participation will be a ‘fail-safe” measure but rigorous management support throughout the organization can be extremely valuable.  Involving executives in an active way can help bolster the program and provide the support necessary to accomplish goals, achieve compliance and minimize (but sadly not eliminate) the potential for disasters.

[1] Hardcastle, Jessica Lyons, “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits,” Environmental Leader, March 7, 2016

[2] Liu, Chelsea, et.al., “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits,” Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics, Volume 12, Issue 1, April 2016, Pages 15–34.

[3] International Organization for Standardization (ISO), “Environmental management systems – Requirements for guidance and use,” ISO14001:2015, Third Edition, Section 9.3, September 15, 2015

Sustainable or Not Sustainable? That is the Question!

By Lawrence B. Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group

Today there are many economic and social drivers for companies to move towards being more sustainable, green, compliant, and safe in the workplace. One of these drivers is being recognized by credible third parties for exceptional performance. For example, being listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) or having one or more sites as members of U.S. OSHA’s Voluntary Protection “Star” Program are noble corporate goals and can enhance a company’s reputation. However, some recent events suggest that these recognition programs should be viewed with perhaps some skepticism. Case in point – BP, Tokyo Electric Power, and VW were all DJSI-listed companies prior to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon, 2011 Japanese Tsunami, and 2015 Clean Diesel incidents. All three companies were removed from the DJSI list within a month of the incidents, suffered significant hits to their stock prices, and had CEO’s and other executives forced to resign. One has to ask the question then: What might this say about formal sustainability recognition programs. This link to an EHS Journal article in 2015 explores this issue in more detail.

After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy

By Eric W. Orts, Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Faculty Director, Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership

October 10, 2016

David Orr asked me to serve as a rapporteur for the conference that he organized (with a little help from his friends) at Oberlin College and was held from October 5-7, 2016, and I happily agreed. Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership was one of the first of a number of other organizations to agree to co-sponsor this conference, but the work of attracting a remarkable group of leading experts fell mostly to David and his staff. And what an impressive group they assembled! I have gone to conferences relating to the topic of climate change for more than twenty years, and this was by far the most impressive group of its kind. Headline keynotes were given by celebrity “top influencers” including Bill McKibben, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Steyer. In addition, the top executives of organizations including the Sierra Club ad CERES attended, as well as such other well-known names as Gar Alperovitz, Robert Kuttner, Hunter Lovins, and Bill Ritter.

My charge here is to attempt to review the overall course of the conference and to distill some of the major themes. My apologies in advance to anyone at the conference who may feel that I give them short shrift. Inevitably, my own intellectual bias will intrude in selecting the most important themes, but I hope to be as objective as possible in my reporting role. I will also try to be brief.

The conference divided roughly into three parts which were addressed on each day. Of course, different speakers crossed over into different areas, but in general there was an attempt to follow an agenda of organization that would lead to cumulative learning and engagement. Day 1 was devoted to a series of presentations on “theory.” Day 2 focused on elements of the post-carbon “next economy.” Day 3 considered “politics.” This report will follow this division, with transitional keynotes discussed as bridges between the categories.

Day 1: Theory

Elements of the theory needed to make progress on addressing the very large problem of global climate change were addressed by various presentations. These elements included the following.

Vision of sustainability. One must have a working definition of the goal one seeks to accomplish, and perhaps the best reference one can give here is to David Orr’s most recent book, Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward (2016). Both economics and politics are necessary to engage, as well as the science providing a background understanding of the challenge. A social transformation is needed to wean human civilization from the destructive use of fossil fuels—namely, coal, oil, and natural gas—and to replace them with renewable energy—such as solar, thermal, wind, and others. Making progress in greater efficiency and conservation in the use of energy is another imperative.

Systems approach. The study of interactions between the natural environment and social behavior and organizations requires a theoretical orientation appreciative of systems, rather than a reductive focus on linear processes. The “next economy” requires innovative new design and reform at both micro (local) and macro (global) levels.

Ethics and values. A general theoretical challenge is to incorporate a new sense of sustainable values and ethics into the social processes of business, work, capital markets, politics, and government. Views of business and markets as concerned strictly with “profit maximization” are inconsistent with this moral requirement. Seeing government as only a game used by people to gain power and influence is similarly impoverished.

Optimistic narratives and stories.   We know from studies in psychology that “optimism is functional” (see Martin Seligman’s work), and a general prescription from the conference seems to be that an optimistic attitude is best even when dealing with the very hard facts of current and impending climate change, including the relentless rise in global concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the fact that average global temperatures continue to set new records. Several presenters noted that 2014, 2015, and 2016 have been progressively the warmest years on record. Fourteen of the last fifteen years have been the hottest ever recorded. Nevertheless, theoretical attitudes toward solving the problem cannot succeed if they fall victim to pessimistic despondency and inaction. New language, metaphors, and concepts are needed. My own view, for example, is that rethinking the purpose and design of business firms is needed as one part of the larger solution (see Orts, Business Persons (2015)). Various presenters focused also on a need to rethink traditional concepts such as “capital” and “eco-system services.” The meanings of “sustainability” itself and somewhat newer ideas of “resilience” are also evolving.

Measurement and accountability. Scientific assessment of progress at all levels is needed as part of the theoretical background. Progress cannot be assumed, and the Paris Agreement opens the door toward better international accounting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and various mitigation or adaptation strategies adopted by and within nation-states. Other large institutions, such as business corporations and nonprofits, should also install reliable internal accounting standards and practices, following the well-known mantra that “you manage what you measure.” Questions were raised about whether older measures of economic progress such as gross domestic product (GDP) continue to be useful—or whether it would be better to develop and follow new measures of well-being, sustainability, happiness, and freedom from hunger and homelessness.

Fairness and justice. Other key principles—emphasized, for example, by Nikki Silvestri—are fairness and justice, including especially racial justice. The phenomenon of Trump indicates also that many poor and working class whites in the United States have been hurt by current status quo policies. Everyone should be considered when making proposals for change, reform, and reinvention. Progress on climate change will not occur unless all citizens and consumers are respected and included.

McKibben Keynote

Bill McKibben provided a keynote in Finney Chapel at the end of the first day, and as a leading environmental activist (and indeed perhaps the best known activist who led the fight that shut down the Keystone Pipeline) his discussion focused on the need for a citizens’ movement to counteract the inertia and special interests supporting the status quo. McKibben struck three main themes.

Time.   First, climate change is unlike other social problems because incremental, slow progress will not be enough. Adverse effects from global warming are occurring faster than had been predicted twenty years ago. Arctic ice has melted. Ocean have acidified. Very soon, vast amounts of methane may release into the atmosphere from northern tundra landscapes. “If we do not solve [the problem] fast,” said McKibben, “we will not solve it.”

Stop fossil fuels now. According to one recent report, coal, oil, and natural gas companies own reserves that amount to four to five times the amount of carbon that can be safely emitted without blowing through the two degree Celsius average global temperature ceiling agreed as a target in the recent Paris Agreement. Another more recent report has found that current resources already being tapped by these companies will be enough to push the world past two degrees. For McKibben, and for some other environmentalists at the conference, such as the Sierra Club, this means that all expansions of fossil fuel production and distribution should be opposed and, if possible, immediately halted.

Force the change. McKibben sees the status quo, as represented by big fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and their political influence, as the primary obstacle to positive change. Citizens coming together in a broad-based movement is the only way to counter the political influence of big oil and other large energy companies. A “Keystone-ization” needs to spread to other controversies, such as the current standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to block the Dakota Access pipeline. There has been a long string of recent victories, and McKibben makes a strong argument that these should continue. Politics at the national level also matters, and McKibben opposes Trump on grounds that his campaign denies climate science and threatens to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Day 2: The Next Economy

                  Day 2 was devoted mostly to what the “next economy” in a post-carbon world would look like. Some participants, such as Gar Alperovitz, focused on the need for new local initiatives that break with the standard model of capitalist financing and management. Many examples of creative grassroots economic development were given, and a key lesson from many presentations is that good jobs are necessary for any environmental reform to succeed. The next economy must provide for secure and well-paid new jobs, because otherwise there will be no political will to make the change from business-as-usual. At the same time, other participants, such as Hunter Lovins, argued that big companies must become part of the solution too. Unilever and Walmart were discussed as positive examples, though a general consensus appeared to support the view that most large corporations were clueless, too casual, or actively dissembling (greenwashing). This widespread lack of true engagement by most businesses in finding climate solutions needs to change.

The financial markets play a large role in the problem as well. Mindy Lubber, the CEO of Ceres, examined various success stories of institutional investors pressuring public companies to disclose risk and performance measures regarding greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission has an important task to set “materiality” disclosure standards relating to climate change. Although the size of social impact investing may not yet have had a huge influence, it seems to be growing, and interest on college and university campuses regarding investment policies for endowments (including divestment) has been increasing too.

Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker provided a well-received analysis of the “carbon bubble” that he and his colleagues have found in the disclosures of fossil fuel companies. A large percentage of assets currently owned by these firms “can’t be burned” if the two degree limit is to be respected. As a result, many of these companies may be financially overvalued—on the optimistic assumption that the political will is forthcoming to curtail this business model. At the moment, however, major investors do not seem perturbed—and they appear to be betting, then, that the two degree limit will be exceeded.

As for solutions, Campanale and other pointed out that the scale of the problem requires massive government (as well as private) investment. Historical low interest rates should be used to finance as much as $70 trillion in global investment in the repair and enhancement of infrastructure, including new smart grids and the development of renewable energy sources. (This very large number compares with $60 trillion as the approximate value of all publicly traded companies in the world.) A number of presenters spoke of the need for a scale of investment to address climate change similar to the expenditures made in fighting World War II. (And one questioner usefully asked: What will be the equivalent of a “Pearl Harbor moment” to provide sufficient motivation for this scale of investment?)

The need to engage with all people, especially those who feel disenfranchised or ignored by globalization, was emphasized, including urban black and white rural populations. Religious groups provide an essential organizational nexus for transformation at the local level. And leaders such as Pope Francis can have large influence at the global level. The role of cities, which account for 72 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, is also key. Joan Fitzgerald noted that the average greenhouse gas emissions in large cities were commonly much less that the average emissions of their countries as a whole. For example, average per capita emissions in New York and San Francisco are less than a third of average emissions of the United States as a whole.

New paradigms were also discussed, such as a need to move toward an objective of “plenitude,” as advocated by Juliet Schor, instead of economic growth. An attitude of plenitude adopts a view that natural resources should be enjoyed rather than exploited. And climate change policies need to fit into a larger strategic template that include other large-scale problems, according to Mark Mykleby and Patrick Doherty. Sustainability should go hand-in-hand with policies promoting economic prosperity and national security.

Brune Keynote

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, gave a transitional keynote speech that echoed McKibben’s call to oppose the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as a primary target. He first noted an impressive record of success for environmentalists, particularly in the Beyond Coal campaign. Of 200 coal plants proposed fourteen years ago, for example, 90 percent were stopped by coordinated activism and litigation. Six years ago, there were 523 coal plants in the United States, and today more than half of them have been retired. The well-known example of stopping the Keystone Pipeline has been replicated by a string of recent environmentalist victories against similar pipelines and projects. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the overall cost of solar and wind technologies has become very competitive with, and often cheaper than, traditional coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear alternatives.

Brune then drew several lessons from his experience that provided a bridge to discussion about politics in the final day of the conference.

Keep winning. Recent environmentalist victories against the expansion of fossil fuel facilities should continue and, if possible, accelerate.

Reach out to Republicans and Independents as allies. Brune was the first to tag this theme which was later repeated by others. Many of the Sierra Club “wins” have occurred in very politically conservative areas of the country. Climate change cannot remain a cause only of one major party in the United States. Polls show majorities of Republicans believe in climate science and support transitional strategies (despite the rhetoric to the contrary expressed at the top national level). Supermajorities of the American public support policies to counter climate change as well, including many business leaders.

Get active.   People must organize and vote in order for change to happen. Solutions also must work for everyone (a repeated theme throughout the conference). Businesses that embrace climate friendly policies should be welcomed. And “what victory looks like” must include new well-paying jobs, including for unemployed coal miners and persistently marginalized populations.

Moss and Steyer Keynotes

A tag-team keynote session with Otis Moss and Tom Steyer highlighted themes of religion, race, and generational engagement as important. Moss reflected on his own effort to explain and translate environmental issues such as climate change to his religious constituents in order to make change “by any greens necessary.” Environmental justice links with racial justice in the United States, and Moss also emphasized the essential task of engaging younger people.

Tom Steyer agreed with the need to engage youth and described his efforts with NextGen Climate which, for example, has a presence now on fifty college campuses in Ohio. Steyer cited polls that indicated extremely high levels of support for clean energy solutions (around 80% of younger voters) and a transition to a 100% clean energy economy (91% of Millennials according to one poll).

Religious leaders are important as well, and the recent encyclical by Pope Francis carries great weight. Historically conservative icons such as leaders in the military provide another fulcrum from which change may be leveraged.

Day 3: Politics

It is fair to say that the outsized Arnold Schwarzenegger stole the show on the last day of the conference. The former Republican Governor of California made an impassioned case for both parties to tackle the challenge of climate change in a bipartisan manner. His catchphrase, riffing on a famous speech by Obama, was that “there is no Democratic water and Republican water; no Democratic air and Republican air.” He embodied pleas by other participants that Republicans had to come to the table, and he was hard to miss or ignore.

Sharing the stage with Tom Steyer, a Democrat who is known for bankrolling politicians who embrace climate friendly positions, the former Governor elevated California as an example that the rest of the United States could follow. Simply “copy us,” said Schwarzenegger, and I “guarantee” economic growth as well as climate progress. He compared California’s economic and environmental success to Germany’s.

In addition, Schwarzenegger emphasized that the fossil fuel companies (which he described as mostly coming from Texas) had to be opposed. He claimed, with respect to their attempts to lobby against reform, that “we terminated them.” (At the same time, he recognized the ability to work with them on climate-friendly projects such the introduction of hydrogen fuel by Chevron in California.) He reiterated a theme heard throughout the conference that policies to address climate change had to provide good jobs too. In his view, California provides an example for other states (including Ohio and Texas) that green policies can lead to economic prosperity. Interestingly, Schwarzenegger found that some of the biggest opponents of environmental policies or initiatives were in fact environmentalists. For example, proposals to build new solar plants in deserts were opposed and delayed on grounds of threats to endangered species such as tortoises.

Steyer largely agreed with Schwarzenegger on the main points. Both argued for economic growth (which was a contested idea for other participants who see a conflict emerging between growth and sustainability). Both emphasized the importance of jobs. Both made the case of a shift toward bipartisan engagement at the national level.

Earlier in the day, Robert Kuttner provided an incisive commentary on the current political situation. White working class people hurt by governmental policies for several decades appear to have become a wild card supporting the likes of Trump and his anti-establishment, anti-globalization, and anti-science rhetoric. Commenting on “the presence of prophetic voices” at the conference, such as McKibben, Kuttner argued that the deeper roots of Trumpism had to be recognized and countered in order to establish a political consensus to address climate change.   He argued against the “liberal elitism” that embraced climate change as a major issue and yet ignored large losses in wealth and well-being of large swaths of the population. A “possible politics” to remedy the situation could focus on reducing levels of material consumption and reversing the incentives that encourage what he called “predatory capitalism.” He also echoed calls by others at the conference for a massive investment in infrastructure, taking advantage of historically low interest rates. Climate change is a challenge “such as we’ve never faced,” he said, and we are “groping for analogies (but not in Trump’s sense of groping).” Kuttner concluded with one memorable quote from the conference, reflecting on the need to take our grandchildren’s perspective into account: “We need not just to be right; we need to win.”

Conclusion

Many others paid tribute to David Orr at the conference, and his inspiration informed many contributions. I will do so here as well, and mention again that these reflections are sifted through my own particular lenses. I would urge interested readers to consult sources provided at the conference for further avenues of self-edification and engagement. I will leave the last word to Orr, though, and quote the following from his new book, which I believe embraces the spirit of the conference overall:

I do not believe that we are fated to destroy the Earth by fire, heat, or technology run amok. But if there is a happier future it will come down to this: to act with compassion and energy, our hearts must be in it; to act intelligently, we must understand that we are but one part of an interrelated global system; to act effectively and justly, we must be governed by accountable, transparent, and robust democratic institutions; and to act sustainably, we must live and work within the limits of our natural system over the longterm. (Dangerous Years, p. xi)

If we are as a civilization in some measure successful in addressing the massive challenge of climate change, the Oberlin conference on “After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy” will have had some role in inspiring and informing this future success. It was a privilege to be there for the experience, for the education, and for the inspiration.