Category Archives: social impact

The Wharton Green Tracker: A Sustainability Impact Pilot for Wharton Students

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The Wharton Green Tracker, our impact tracking app, launched on March 19th! This is a free app available for iOS and Android devices that will connect us all digitally and reward you for doing good by the Wharton community and the world, and for making more sustainable lifestyle choices. Prizes will be offered to the highest point-earner from the prior week every Monday through April 16, as well as for highest scores at the pilot’s conclusion! Follow this link to download on iOS, and this link to download on Android – or simply search “Wharton Green Tracker,” to get started. Use community code “whartonupenn to gain access and start earning your points now!

The Wharton Green Tracker is a collaboration between the Wharton School and MilkCrate, a mission–driven tech company that empowers our clients to track and grow their impact using a platform that can be customized to engage individual behavior to reveal collective impact.  To learn more about MilkCrate, check out their website: http://mymilkcrate.com

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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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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

The Gashora Clinic Water Project

By Ocek Eke, Director of Local and Global Service Learning Programs at Penn Engineering

Clean drinking water is a luxury that many people around the globe can not afford.  This fact is more pronounced in developing countries where water-borne diseases are widespread because water sources tend to be local streams and lakes that are often contaminated with pollution.

In 2012, the General Electric Foundation generously donated ten state-of-the-art water filtration systems to the government and people of Rwanda. One of these filters was installed in the village of  Gashora.

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Water filtration system donated to Gashora Health Clinic by GE Foundation

Penn Engineering in Gashora

Gashora is also the location of the Gashora Girls Academy for Science and Technology (GGAST).  This elite all-girl secondary school was established to encourage young Rwandan women to pursue careers in STEM subjects.

GGAST is a partner of Penn Engineering and through our Service Learning course.  We collaborate with the Academy on a several projects. This summer, we offered information communication technology training for students and faculty, and installed solar lights and solar powered water pumps to improve the quality of life of students, faculty, and staff.

At Penn Engineering, we approach our service learning programs with an emphasis on long and sustained relationships with our overseas partners. We believe that the communities in which we work should positively benefit by our presence.  To this end, we paid a visit to the Gashora Clinic medical team after being informed that they were in desperate need of water. The Director and staff lamented the challenges they face daily in curing illness, especially in children.

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The Gashora Health Clinic

Then the director took us to the back of the clinic and showed us the water filtration system that GE Foundation donated and installed four years ago. We learned that many of the patients in his clinic are being treated for water-related illnesses contracted by using contaminated water from the nearby Lake Rumira.

The Challenge

The unfortunate irony is that there is an abundance of equipment (i.e., filters and water tanks) yet a shortage of clean water. The filtration system was designed to rely on rain catchment and the local utility for water. However, rainfall in Gashora is sporadic at best and the local water utility service is unreliable.  When asked if a bore-hole or local well could supply water to the clinic, the director explained that the underground water is highly contaminated with lead and manganese, making it both unusable and cost-prohibitive to filter.

Next, we walked with the director to Lake Rumira, about 1.5 kilometers away from the clinic. There we saw children and women swimming and fetching water with yellow jerry-cans. The director explained that while there is water in the lake year-round, it is contaminated, too. The end result is a high rate of people afflicted with water-borne diseases due to a severe shortage of clean water at the Gashora Health Clinic.

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Lake Rumira, main source of drinking water for people in Gashora

I asked him a simple but complicated question, “What if Penn Engineering could bring the water from the lake to the clinic’s filtration system?” He smiled, and said that he would accept our offer if we were extending one. “Can you really do it?” he asked.  As engineers, we design and build solutions to real-world problems all the time. I was confident we could bring clean water to the Gashora Clinic.

Complications…

In order to move forward, we learned that we had to get the permission of the district’s village elders before we could carry out a project of this magnitude. In essence we would have to dig a trench from Lake Rumira to the clinic. There were a series of steps that were necessary that required time and patience:

  • The Deputy Mayor instructed us to put our proposal in writing and bring back to him. While he supported the idea, he cautioned that we might run into problems getting permission from land owners whose lands would be impacted by the trench for the water pipes.
  • We wrote and submitted the proposal to the Deputy Mayor, and he promised to take it to the District Mayor.
  • The Deputy Mayor informed us that the District Mayor was excited about the project and would talk to the elders of Gashora village to give the permission to dig the trench.
  • The elders deliberated with the the District Mayor and Clinic Director.

Ultimately, Penn Engineering was granted the permission to dig the 1½ km trench, and to proceed with the project.

Next Steps

Our goal is to pump water from Lake Rumira using a solar powered water pump installed at a secure location on the lakeshore.  A solar powered pump frees the community from reliance on the local power grid and contributes to long-term sustainability. The water will be rock-filtered to remove silt and debris before it is pumped into a waiting tank where gravity will draw small particles to the tank bottom. At this point, the water will be pumped through the GE filtration system that will remove chemical contaminants and purify the water.  The clean water will then be transferred to the clinic’s tank and the kiosk tank for villagers’ use.

One of the most appealing aspects of this project is that together, we are building capacity with our local partners for long-term sustainability. Gashorans will learn to maintain the equipment, and operate the pump. Penn faculty and students will assist in education and implementation. We have also partnered with Health Builders International, a nonprofit organization based in Kigali to assist us in monitoring the quality of the lake water over time.

At present, most of the trench for the water pipes has been dug and we are poised to complete the project when our service-learning course returns to Gashora in May 2017.

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The Trench from Lake Rumira to Gashora Health Clinic, Rwanda

Help Us Bring Clean Water to Gashora

There is one critical piece missing to the project: The pipes.  Penn Engineering student leader, Erica Higa, has set up a GoFundMe site to help raise $40,000 to cover the cost of the pipes.

The people of Gashora desperately need this project completed. Penn students have benefited intellectually and culturally from the enriched experience of performing service in a foreign country. Penn Engineering is committed to finishing this project and we invite you to join us in bringing clean water to the people of Gashora. Please go to our gofundme site, any financial assistance you can give to us is greatly appreciated: https://www.gofundme.com/WaterForGashora

Following the Green Brick Road with MES and IGEL to Real-World Sustainability

By: Nathan Sell*

January to July 2014 were the quickest and perhaps busiest months of my life to date. As a Masters student in the Environmental Studies program at Penn I was finishing up my degree, joining the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) team, and job hunting. My time at IGEL was an invaluable experience in many ways. I joined in the thick of event planning just as the annual conference and a host of other events were all being planned.  This “trial by fire” had me leveraging my new knowledge as an MES student, as well as my educational background, and building a new set of communications and outreach skills.

I was in awe at the audience that IGEL has and the power that its events have to bring together leaders in sustainability and push the discussion on what companies can do for business and the environment. A lot of the skills I refined while at IGEL both caught the attention of my current employers and have served me well in my new role.

As a participant in the ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) program, I’m working with the EPA Office of Water at the headquarters in Washington, DC. As part of the Climate Change Team, I work on issues closely tied to sustainability.  Balanced between communications and research, a portion of my work is dedicated to facing EPA’s message to the public through social media and outreach. My research at the moment focuses on “Blue Carbon,” carbon sequestered within coastal marine ecosystems such as mangroves, sea grass beds, and salt marshes. Blue Carbon is getting a lot of attention, and for good reason. These ecosystems are shown to store carbon up to 100X faster than terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, and store this carbon for incredibly long periods of time. They’re part of the puzzle to building climate change resilience. Seeing how policy can be leveraged for additional protection and expansion of these threatened environments, and seeing where business can build blue carbon into international carbon markets are some of the drivers that will be increasingly important in the future.  It’s an exciting intersection of science, policy and business that I’m thrilled to be working on, and an amazing way to begin putting my MES degree and IGEL experience to use.

*Nathan is the former IGEL Coordinator and currently works with the EPA Office of Water on their Water Policy Staff.  @mister_sells

The Win-Win-Win of Impact Investing

By: Nathan Sell*

Ask not what your investment dollars can do for you, but ALSO what they can do for others, and the environment. That’s the idea behind Impact Investing, an emerging paradigm shift in philanthropy. This form of socially responsible investing generates both measurable social and environmental impact as well as returns on investment. Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy and former Managing Director at Goldman Sachs is at the forefront of linking business and the environment for a better world as he discusses in his recent book “Nature’s Fortune.” Tercek, and the new wave of impact investors are proving that your investments can make money AND do good.

Impact investing in the environment is quickly coming to scale as the value of ecosystem services to clean air and water, armor shorelines, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation is being realized. Cities like Philadelphia are leading the way in green infrastructure investment. Over the next 25 years, Green Stormwater Infrastructure will help the city to combat the extreme weather patterns as well as prevent Combined Sewer Overflows resulting in greener cities and cleaner waters for which the initiative is named.

Novo Nordisk entered China in 1994 and immediately noticed that a diet high in starch was leading to diabetes in a large portion of the population. Combined with rapid pathogen spread due to urbanization, the health of the people in China was (and continues to be) at risk. Novo Nordisk put their efforts toward alleviating some of these health concerns. By training doctors in diabetes care and prevention, the company has helped to save over 140,000 life years. The shared value of impact investment ensures companies like Novo Nordisk remain profitable while helping the communities in which they work.

Impact investing also has the potential to bring promising technologies to scale. Without investment, it’s possible that companies like d.light may never have gotten off the ground. With the help of investment, this for-profit social enterprise has been able to sell affordable solar lamps to those without reliable power. The result? D.light is bringing safe, bright and renewable lighting to people around the world, allowing students to do their homework, families to cook, and an overall better quality of life to over 34 million people.

Impact investing may prove better for people and the planet than charitable giving. Investing in businesses that do good by people and the planet can ensure the success of their mission, allowing for long term solutions, rather than a potential band-aid in the form of a grant or gift. If your investment could benefit the triple bottom line, rather than just YOUR bottom line then you’ve found the rare win-win-win scenario. The next time you invest, think strategically about what your money can really do.

*Nathan is a recent graduate of the Master of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and a current ORISE Fellow with EPA Water.

3rd Plasticity Forum comes to NYC June 24th

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By: Nathan Sell*

The 3rd Plasticity Forum kicks off next week on June 24th in New York City.  Originally launched in Rio at the Earth Summit, and last year in Hong Kong, New York is an opportune location for Plasticity’s first US forum, given the innovative work America’s biggest city has been undertaking.  Many may wonder, what is Plasticity, and why should I care?  To begin, consider this: how long could you go without using or wearing an item made of, or containing plastic? A day? An hour? A minute?  Plastic is cheap, versatile and convenient.  Because of this we view many plastic products as “disposable,” but even if their functional life is a short, like a stir straw or a soda bottle, their actual lifetime is decades or centuries. Despite our best intentions, only 10% of the plastic we use is recycled, much is landfilled, and still a great deal ends up as pollution, often in the “great pacific garbage vortex” where ocean currents move much of our plastic waste debris.  This debris is confused for food by many marine animals from birds to fish and turtles, and wreaks havoc on delicate ecosystems.

We should remind ourselves that plastics are made from a non-renewable resource which takes a great deal of energy to extract, refine, mold, and transport.  This begs the question, why would we throw this stuff out?  When we take this into consideration it becomes clear that there’s a great opportunity in changing the way that we use and reuse plastics.  We need to take a look at plastics from their formation (cradle) to their disposal (grave).  Better design (sometimes referred to as “design for the environment”) can make plastic products more easily recycled, diverting waste where it can be used as a raw material again (cradle to cradle). Reducing the amount of plastics in products, light-weighting and biodegradability are all solutions that need to be brought to scale in the plastics industry.  Technologies exist that can turn plastics into fuel (low-sulphur diesel fuel, giving an air pollution improvement along the way), making plastic waste a desirable system input.  These technologies should be considered prime investment opportunities.

Plasticity Forum will bring together leaders in industry including Nike and Dell together with leading advocates of responsible product use/reuse such as Interface and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  Altogether, the forum will be the most influential dialogue on plastic pollution, design, reuse and innovation, all of which need to scale for us to bring out the opportunities that these issues represent.  Make sure to register and be part of this important conversation.

www.plasticityforum.com

View the Plasticity Forum Trailer Here

 * Nathan Sell is a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and is the current IGEL Coordinator.

Investing in a Secure Water Infrastructure

By: Nathan Sell

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2013 report card gives America’s drinking water infrastructure a D. For those of us who’ve fretted over GPA points for much of our lives, a D is the source of nightmares and leaves us knocking on our professor’s office door begging for an explanation. The reason we find, is that we’ve hidden our precious water infrastructure out of sight where its degradation can be easily ignored. The result? More than $1 trillion needs to be invested in our failing system over the next 25 years.

Our water systems have been historically underfunded, mostly because they require a vision that extends past most terms in office. These infrastructure projects are rarely seen or understood and do not gain many votes, yet as we go about our morning routines, the thought never crosses our mind as to whether or not water will come out of the faucet as we prepare to brush our teeth or brew coffee.

Currently, most municipalities only invest in water infrastructure when it needs to be repaired. Rather than maintenance, we rely only upon “Band-Aids” to keep our systems going. With approximately 240,000 water main breaks per year, we’re fighting a losing battle. Our ancient water infrastructure still contains pipes laid over a hundred years ago, some even constructed from wood or clay. Losing water from treatment facilities to the home represents 16% of our nation’s daily water use, wasting 2.1 trillion gallons a year. This represents not only water loss, but the energy and costs associated with treating this water, only to be wasted. In no other industry is this type of loss acceptable. As we begin to address water scarcity, energy use and climate change on a national level, it is clear that it is time to re-examine how we maintain our water infrastructure.

Rather than wallowing in our seemingly insurmountable water infrastructure woes, companies like United Water are finding the opportunities that are available in rehabilitating these systems and finding the rare win-win-win scenario. At the recent IGEL/United Water conference, “Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Private-Public Partnerships Work” James Kennedy, the former governor of Rahway spoke to the benefits a Public-Private Partnership can generate, not only rehabilitating infrastructure but promoting the town’s growth through infrastructure investment. By bringing in private equity to invest in water infrastructure through PPP’s, debt can be repaid, and a safer, more efficient water system designed for future needs can prevent the reactionary maintenance ethic of the past.

Public-Private Partnerships are not the only way to invest $1 trillion into our water infrastructure but they are quickly proving their worth. The foresight involved in the long-term planning as well as investment of private capital make these partnerships beneficial to the municipalities in which they work, the people they serve as well as the investors who can see the value in this much needed resource. By valuing the resource many consider a human right, we can ensure the longevity of America’s public water systems.

Urban Water Justice in the Developing World

By Urmila Malvadkar* 

ImageIn the developing world, a lack of sufficient clean water is both a cause and consequence of poverty.   Informal settlements—housing up to 60%  of the population of some cities in the developing world– face unique obstacles to water access.  New infrastructure is difficult to install in dense, unplanned communities.  Many governments ignored needs of these communities in order to de-legitimize them and discourage rural-urban migration.  Further, residents are often rural migrants who stay for a few years  and do not advocate for investing in their community.

Where cities are unwilling or unable to provide water, residents can spend hours a day to purchase water from private vendors who charge 10 to 20 times more than tap water.   Some of these vendors in large cities such as Jakarta and Nairobi, have ties to organized crime, collude to cause artificially high prices, refuse to serve certain ethnicities,  and threaten utility workers with violence.

While some official policies– even pro-poor policies–can reduce access to water among the very poor, some programs focusing on improving service to the most indigent communities profoundly improve lives.

Continue reading

World Water Week: Competitors Must Collaborate on Water Risk Management

Penn Student Sara Drexler wrote “World Water Week: Competitors Must Collaborate on Water Risk Management” for Triple Pundit. Read the full article here.

World Water Week is well underway, and as thousands of experts, decision-makers and professionals descend on Stockholm to collaborate on pressing global water issues, the private sector plays a larger role in the conversation than ever. More than 24 sessions dedicated to business show that the week’s theme of collaboration and partnerships can apply to profit-driven enterprises.

As Coca-Cola, Unilever, SABMiller, H&M and Borealis, among others, gathered on Monday afternoon to discuss Taking Collaboration to the Next Level with a packed audience, one message stood out: the business case has been made, it’s time to work with competitors to drive real change that has real positive impacts on the bottom line. Continue reading on Triple Pundit’s website