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Climate Crisis Provides Chance to Make Society Fairer

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 2, 2014 11:10:49 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

hurry and buy

The evening after Thanksgiving, I turned on NBC Nightly News with the avuncular Brian Williams, expecting frothy stories about turkey dinners and children’s dreams coming true. Instead, I got a line-up that started with Ray Rice’s exoneration by the NFL, complete with clips of him beating his wife-to-be, then one on shoppers fighting over merchandise at a Black Friday event, followed by protests against Ferguson’s grand jury decision not to prosecute police officer Darren Wilson.

I am struck this holiday season by the seemingly endless stream of news about apparent injustice without recourse. In addition to Ferguson and Ray Rice, there’s the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” This morning, The New York Times Magazine cover story chronicled lack of justice for military rape victims. And then there’s Bill Cosby…

I went to college in 1972, the year that Title IX was passed banning gender discrimination in schools. I watched the tail end of the civil rights demonstrations and celebrated with protestors, especially at the end of the Vietnam War, when the draft was shut down, and with it, the most direct injustice to males in my cohort. In 1970, Earth Day encouraged us to treat our environment with respect if not reverence.

Stories of institutional bias against victims, both codified and cultural, again seem to dominate the news, along with demonstrations against it. I hope this cycle of protest has more complete and lasting solutions. But how can we really and truly put an end to egregious injustice?

Naomi Klein offers one idea. Klein is my hero for introducing me in 1999 to the potential for brands to change the world. At that time, government and religious leaders had lost people’s trust and brands had become the only institutional voices that consumers listened to. In that role, Klein wrote, brands, through social responsibility programs, could lead us out of society’s injustices. The many colors of Benetton would cure racism. Body Shop would end animal testing. Liz Claiborne would create awareness of domestic abuse. The Gap’s Red campaign would raise money for the poor in Africa.

In fact, these campaigns were mostly promotion, doing little to address the issues while succeeding in selling more stuff, and, in so doing, creating even more injustice. An enormous amount of energy is needed to produce, transport and store our stuff. That energy comes mostly from fossil fuels, and those mining it perpetrate injustice around the world. Texaco, now owned by Chevron, created the “Amazon Chernobyl.” Ecuadorian natives have been in court for 11 years so far seeking damages for their society’s complete destruction. The BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers, sickened local residents, and decimated tens of thousands of birds, turtles and sea life, the most vulnerable of all. Within a single month last spring, Casper Wyoming-based Belle Fourche Pipeline operations suffered three oil spills in Wyoming totaling more than 100,000 gallons, with no fines or penalties. Oil extraction in North Dakota is destroying the land with minimal punishment, with one company, Continental Resources, getting off scot-free until its 11th blow-out.

Still, Klein remains a hero to me for trying. And she has tried again in her latest book, This Changes Everything. In her words, “Climate change is our chance to right those festering wrongs at last—the unfinished business of liberation.”

Klein’s thesis compares the climate crisis to World War II and the massive solution required to rebuild Europe prescribed by the Marshall Plan. In 1947, George Marshall described the aim of his Marshall Plan as a fight “against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.” In current dollars, the U.S. invested $160 billion to prevent a European collapse that would have hurt us too. Much as Europe had to rebuild itself then, we have to rebuild ourselves now.

Along the way, we just might cure our addiction to spending and much of the depression and insecurity that goes with it. Why not invest in a new society that’s safer and fairer, that reduces the threats posed by hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos?

As Klein puts it, “Climate change, if treated as a true planetary emergency (could) become a galvanizing force for humanity, leaving us all not just safer from extreme weather, but with societies that are safer and fairer in all kinds of other ways as well.” Regardless of how workable her solutions are, her thesis seems worth considering.
Photo courtesy of Jesus Leon via Flickr CC.

Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 10,000+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 365 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.


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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Benetton, Bill Cosby, Black Friday, corporate social responsibility, Ecuador, Ferguson, UVA Rape, Uncategorized, The Gap, Liz Claiborne, No Logo, Ray Rice, The Body Shop, This Changes Everything, Amazon Chernobyl, BP, Carol Pierson Holding, Chevron, Continental Resources, military rape, Naomi Klein

Buying Our Way to Salvation

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 8, 2010 6:14:36 PM / by Berit Anderson

Friday November 26th was “Buy Nothing Day”, an International Day of protest against consumerism led by Adbusters magazine, which describes it as, “[a] sudden unexpected moment of truth, a mass reversal of perspective, a global mindshift – from which the corporate/consumerist forces never fully recover.”

In spite of the organizer’s claims that it is “sudden” and “unexpected,” Buy Nothing Day was, in fact, scheduled to coincide with “Black Friday”— the Friday after Thanksgiving traditionally set to kick off the Christmas shopping season and perhaps, this year especially, save the economy from its doldrums. I daresay that the winner this year was Black Friday, since presumably most readers haven’t even heard of Buy Nothing Day and, anecdotally at least, people were buying. A friend on Facebook reported on a “Black Friday Traffic Jam” from the Hudson Valley:

“Last night taking late bus back from NYC after splendid day with sons and their friends and wonderful meal, the traffic was backed up 5 miles in every direction from Woodbury Commons trying to get to their midnight to midnight Black Friday sales... it was unbelievable. Talk about shop till you drop. Visa and Master Card are raking it in in the Northeast today.”

Although CSRHUB’s founders believe that business must be part of the solution, CSRHUB is more aligned with the forces of Buy Nothing Day than with Black Friday. As stated on CSRHUB’s “About Us’ page, the CSRHUB founders believe that business can be:

“an agent of positive social change. We believe that providing these corporate [ratings on environmental, social and governance performance] will increase the transparency . . . and encourage critical discussions of how companies treat their employees, impact the environment, adjust their carbon footprint, act in their community, provide innovative products and services for sustainable development, and govern themselves.”

But can businesses actually be a source of public good, and not just for today but for Seven Generations? Clearly, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, business has helped feed, employ and raise the living standards of billions of people.  But what good is this to our children and grandchildren if we have created ever increasing dead zones in our seas (405 dead zones worldwide, the largest 27,000 sq. miles), an ever increasing ozone hole in our skies (resulting in increasing ultraviolet radiation), widespread species extinction (according to a report published in Nature, 15-37% of known plant and animal species will be extinct by 2050 from climate change alone), and we are heading toward a literal climate meltdown?

If overconsumption is a problem, how can businesses -- generally motivated to maximize sales and profits -- solve that problem?  How can business be remade to be Triple Bottom Line – not just for profits, but for people and planet also?

One solution is to encourage companies to produce less or to manufacture products that have a social good, through tax and other incentives,.  Since corporations are individually chartered by the state, it’s possible to create a new type of corporate entity -- a “benefit corporation” -- that is highly protective of the environment, its employees and society in general, and to provide tax and other benefits to such entities.  One major step in this direction is the B Corporation movement, which requires B Corporations to: 1) achieve a passing score on the B Ratings System, a comprehensive tool to assess a company’s social and environmental performance; and 2) agree to legally expand the responsibilities of the corporation to include the interests of its employees, suppliers, consumers, community, and environment. So far there are 327 B Corporations with $1.6 billion in revenues in 54 industries (including CSRHUB which was recently approved).  And, indeed, earlier this year, two states, Maryland and Vermont, passed legislation actually codifying and making it possible for businesses to be chartered as “benefit corporations.”

Another possibility is to create mechanisms for businesses to make more money by selling less. Although this isn’t currently practical for most businesses, it is possible and is being done in regulated businesses.  In the electric utility business, for example, state public services commissions have decoupled profits from sales, and created a mechanism for utilities to make more money by selling less by utilizing efficiency and conservation methods.

CSRHUB seeks to solve this problem by “rewarding” businesses that perform well on environment, social and governance issues with good ratings.  CSRHUB Users, for example, can see which companies perform best on environmental issues and can make decisions about what to buy, who to work for, and who to do business with based upon those ratings.  CSRHUB also uses tags to allow users to identify companies that are involved in a wide range of behaviors such as coal production, nuclear power or pesticides and pollutants, or that have been rewarded for being one of the “100 Low Carbon Pioneers”, a member of the “Carbon Disclosure Project,” or an EPA Climate Leader.

So far, these are all small steps.  But for those of us who have been part of and watching this movement for numerous years, they are important ones that are starting to snowball and create new consciousness. CSRHUB is proud to part of this new ecology.

Stephen Filler is a CSRHUB Cofounder and Advisor. An intellectual property attorney, he is the Director of Business Development for Prism Solar Technologies, Inc., a solar photovoltaic module manufacturer. He has provided legal services to and served on the boards of sustainable, environmental and renewable energy businesses, technology and media companies, non-profit organizations and trade associations. Stephen serves on the Boards of NY Sloop Clearwater, NY Solar Energy Association, Sustainable Hudson Valley Business Network. He received his JD from Boston University Law School.

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Berit Anderson, Black Friday, CSRHUB opinion, responsible business, Triple Bottom Line, Buy Nothing Day, consumption, CSRHub

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