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A Better Idea for Branding Public Transit

[fa icon="calendar'] May 8, 2012 4:39:20 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

 

By Carol Pierson Holding

An Atlantic Cities blog posed a question that consistently bedevils environmentalists: How do we break Americans’ love for the automobile? A love enhanced by auto makers who have used design and advertising to reinforce the link between sex and cars.

Branding_transitThe blog was inspired by a new book, Making Transit Fun! How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto Their Feet, a Bike, or Bus), in which designer Darrin Nordahl proposes that we apply “the power positive emotion wields over a person’s choice” to transit, just as has been done with cars. Nordahl believes that good design and branding will make this change happen. He gives concrete examples such as the gorgeous new terminal building planned for San Francisco and the names and logos developed for bus routes in Boulder – names like Hop, Skip, Jump, Bound, Bolt, Dash, and Stampede. These are fun names that give personality to the experience.

And planners point out that the new generation is rejecting car ownership anyway in favor of renting through businesses like Zipcar or car sharing services. This younger cohort is primed for a message that will make transit more attractive and remove any lingering stigma that the older car-addicts have applied to transit.

But I would argue that transit’s sensory experience will never come close to driving’s magical sense of power, freedom, control, — and yes, sex. It’s often the first experience of its kind that a young adult encounters. And names that bring to mind speed like “Bolt” won’t work either until transit really is reliably faster than taking a car, as it can be in New York.

So if a car’s experience is so fundamentally different than riding transit, what parallel experience can we plumb for joyous attributes?

I would propose we look for a model to long-distance trains and their sense of possibility and romance, not the raw sex of cars. Throughout the last century, trains have been rich sources for stories of adventure and romance. The tight space generates dramatic tension that has special appeal for filmmakers. From Brief Encounter to North by Northwest to last year’s The Tourist, where Angelina Joli seduces Johnny Depp on a train, trains have been the stuff of dreams.

My chance encounters on trains have never been quite that romantic or fraught with peril, but they’ve been memorable nonetheless.

To some degree, the New York subway shares the dream of immediate and risk-free contact that long-distance trains enjoy. But given the unromantic image of buses and subways, contact between passengers is generally acceptable only in a crisis. Several years ago when I was riding the Broadway local uptown, the train broke down just north of the West 125th Street stop. I struck up a conversation with a Honduran woman, expressing my admiration for her ability to keep cool despite the summer heat and humidity. Over the course of our conversation, she told me about her autistic child. Our intimacy was immediate and intense, if not romantic.

And yes I’ve experienced joy. On that same line but closer to 42nd Street, a Motown singing group interspersed their songs with such irreverent humor that we all cheered as we put our dollars in the hat. As the lead singer exited the train, he caught my eye and said, mimicking an actor’s angst, “But what is my motivation?”

Building modern transit stations that match the glory of Grand Central is a wonderful idea. I just hope their creators include a recognition of the adventure that comes from sharing a compact space with strangers and the romantic possibilities. And who knows, someday lovers might boast about their tender meeting on a city bus. Makes a better story than meeting online.

Photo published under Creative Commons license. Courtesy of Henry Bloomfield on Flickr


Carol 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 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

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Consumer Boycotts Keep Business Focused on Communities

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 2, 2012 4:06:00 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Harvard Business School just released its first study of US competitiveness, reporting that almost two-thirds of US businesses will locate their new plants outside the US. President Obama addressed the issue in his State of the Union address, citing the same blocks to US competitiveness the study does, namely poor education and training, our complex tax code and regulations, crumbling infrastructure, and lack of political soundness.

ConsumerBoycottsNone of this is surprising. But for me, one finding was truly shocking: only 22% of US managers believe that doing good for their communities will help their business.

Has the economic pressure really had that extreme an impact? I remember just a few years ago that managers believed that doing good for their communities was critical to their business and their reputations. Over the 15 years I consulted to Cisco, I heard President (then Chairman) John Morgridge say over and over, “We do well by doing good” and prove it with network training programs for poor students that expanded Cisco’s industry and customer base. Even today, Cisco is highly rated by CSRHub for its corporate citizenship. In 2008, an Economist study showed that over half of its executive readers linked good deeds to increases in their brand value and over 40% believed that corporate social responsibility (CSR) led to decisions that were better for business in the long-term. As recently as 2009, a study by the IBM Institute for Business Value found that 60% of business leaders worldwide believe CSR had increased in importance over the previous year. Only 6% said it was a lower priority.

Why are the results so different now? It’s not because HBS alums are so different from other managers. (Full disclosure: I am an HBS alum.) At the school’s 2008 Alumni Conference, the topic “The Future of Capitalism” was discussed on the very day that Lehman Brothers collapsed. Nearly every speech was dedicated to the idea that HBS grads could improve financial performance and reduce corrosive social inequity by pursuing returns from social contributions. And speaker after speaker got standing ovations.

And I’m pretty sure the study’s disheartening results cannot be written off as bad study design. The study’s author, Michael Porter, is co-founder of a consulting firm that specializes in CSR, or as they brand it, shared value, and he would not have messed up this unique measurement opportunity.

Which leaves us with the question: Could HBS alums and other business leaders have abandoned their principles under the pressure to survive? Or is there some other reason for the dramatic decline in support for doing good?

A clue could lie in what’s happening in China. In December, Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun, director of Beijing’s Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, spoke at New York’s Business and Human Rights Resource Centre about his “name and shame” approach to environmental compliance in China. Using the country’s lethal heavy metals pollution as an example, Ma explained how citizens use their consumer power to shame companies into cleaning up their act.

China is using brand power to change corporate behavior. Just like we used to.

Before the recession, US citizens used to voice their outrage with product boycotts. Remember diamonds? Transfat? Fur? Victoria’s Secret’s use of virgin paper for its catalogues? US companies may have grown lackadaisical because consumers have stopped using their pocketbook power to influence corporate behavior. If all American consumers care about is price, why should companies focus on anything other than reducing production cost?

Obama was able to kill the Keystone Pipeline only after a massive show of outrage, including countless petitions and a hands-around-the-White-House protest that netted over 10,000 demonstrators. It was only the support of the people that gave Obama the clout to say no to Keystone. The same could be true of those HBS study participants: without the support of consumers to do the right thing, it’s hard to convince boards to invest in communities. Especially when the results tend to be long-term and managers are measured by short-term profit.

Public participation does work, in China and here too. Just last year, a million big bank customers pulled their accounts to protest debit fees, a charge that hits lower income people especially hard. Those banks were “shamed” into dropping their plans. Consumer pressure is effective. We’ve just got to figure out how to ratchet it up again.

Photo courtesy of twotoneatl


Carol 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 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

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Why the name CSRHUB? A Rose is a Rose…

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 9, 2010 9:50:36 AM / by Cynthia Figge

Names have important foundational significance, and like many (all?) startups, Bahar, Stephen and I agonized over our name, and bought numerous URLs. We actually began our business as EkoHub. Ekos is the Greek root word for “ecology” and “economy” and Ekos or oikos (ancient Greek: οἶκος, plural: οἶκοι) is the equivalent of a household or family. This beautiful meaning related to home in its broadest sense of household relationships within the community was the basis for naming my consulting firm EKOS International, cofounded with Lorinda Rowledge and Russell Barton in 1996. Although the original name of EkoHub felt right, we learned that many people interpret this term as lingo for green or environmental.

We explored using the word sustainability – a term increasingly recognized as the dynamic integration of economic, social and environmental systems. However, we found no clever way to shorten the term.

On the investing side of the ledger, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), also known as socially-conscious or ethical investing, is a term that describes an investment strategy that seeks to maximize both financial return and social good. The areas of concern recognized by the SRI industry can be summarized as Environment, Social responsibility, and Governance (ESG). ESG is a term increasingly used by professional analytical firms such as Asset4 and IW Financial to describe their services.

In early 2008 I obtained the URL www.csrhub.com. While the term CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) may have a connotation of “doing the right thing”, CSR has become an acceptable acronym for employee, environmental, community and governance performance in the corporate world. In some regions (Japan, Europe and increasingly Asia), CSR is the dominant terminology for what might also be called sustainability or corporate citizenship.

Based on years of consulting in this area and helping clients develop their CSR/Corporate Responsibility/Sustainability/Citizenship Reports, I know that companies struggle with finding the right words to describe their efforts. Recently my partners at EKOS and I did a quick study of the names of CSR reports in the Fortune 100. The results are as follow below. I think you can draw no quick conclusions. However, of the 63 reports, about 49% are referred to as Corporate Social Responsibility or Corporate Responsibility, and 30% are called Sustainability reports (with many derivations on these terms). See also a cool report by design and communications firm Methodologie that provides a snapshot of how Fortune 100 corporate leaders are communicating Annual and CSR progress in their annual survey of the Fortune 100’s corporate reporting practices.

So for now, we’re betting on CSRHUB, and moving forward as a hub for CSR ratings and information. But we’re pointing to the site with EkoHub and ESGhub just in case. Because "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".*

Fortune 100 Report Name Contains

# of Reports

% of Reports

Sustainability

19

30.2%

Citizenship

10

15.9%

Corporate Responsibility

15

23.8%

Corporate Social Responsibility

16

25.4%

Environment, Energy, Health, Safety

3

4.8%

63

100%

*A quote by William Shakespeare from his play Romeo and Juliet meant to say that the names of things do not matter, only what things are.

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