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Concrete Proof

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 17, 2014 11:05:02 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

There are many world problems that we don’t experience personally.  I got “concrete proof” last week of one that I’d only heard about abstractly, before.birds in New York

I was scurrying to a meeting in Midtown.  I got to the corner of Madison and 43rd and was just going to cross the street when something on the sidewalk caught my eye.

It was a colorful bird’s severed head.  New Yorkers swirled past me on all sides, threatening to stomp on it with their stilettos or smash it with their rolling bags.  I looked upwards and saw the sheer sides of a towering, stone and glass faced office building.  Then, I remembered an article I’d seen recently that estimated that 25,000 birds die each year, when they crash into New York City skyscrapers.

tall New York Skyscrapers

43rd and Madison—the bird is on the right.

New York sits in the middle of a major bird migration route.  Each year, birds of all sizes and shapes stop off in the swamps and fields of the Hudson River’s delta to have a bite to eat, take sip of water, and rest a bit.  Many of them show up late in the day or travel at night.

As birds fly through our area, they get confused by the lights on our buildings or fail to avoid the large, dark, reflective windows that we’ve coated them with.  This is apparently not a new issue.  For example, here is a quote from an old newspaper report: “On the evening of 22 August 1888, after a cold front passed through New York City, almost 1,500 migratory birds were found dead below the nearby Statue of Liberty, apparently drawn to the newly installed electric lights on the statue.”  The problem is also not unique to New York City.  Portland’s extensive guide for making buildings “bird safe” cites a scientific estimate that 34 million birds die each year in the US from collisions with buildings.

The article that made me aware of the problem spoke of building workers whose daily ritual included sweeping up piles of dead and damaged birds.  When I thought of how sad my one example made me, I knew I’d found another job I couldn’t/wouldn’t do.

As with most problems, there are solutions.  However, those that exist seem to be neither simple nor popular.  They include:

  • Turn off the floodlights.  Yes, New York’s skyline is beautiful at night—a never-ending show that delights those who see it.  But, the lights consume a fair amount of energy (the Empire State Building’s lights were turned off for a while during the 1973 energy crisis) and they confuse birds.  A number of buildings have agreed to cut back the hours they show lights.  Perhaps we could go further and light buildings only on weekends (5/7 fewer bird deaths from lights?).
  • Shorter towers.  Most birds migrate at about 2,000 feet—well above the height of most skyscrapers.  (The Empire State Building is 1,424 feet tall.)  However, birds do fly lower if there is fog or rain.  If all new buildings were below 1,000 feet, we might at least keep things from getting worse.  Unfortunately, New York is currently in the midst of building a bunch of new super tall residential skyscrapers.  Will the people who own their penthouses enjoy hearing birds bounce off their terrace windows?
  • Make tall buildings bird friendly.  Birds don’t seem to crash into mountains or tall trees.  They are sensitive to certain colors of light and can see windows when they have certain patterns etched on the inside.  It should be possible to change window designs, add nets, or design a building shape that birds can recognize and avoid.  More work is needed here—and installing these systems won’t be free.  New York Audobon Society has a great handbook on this subject, plus there is the Portland article I mentioned before and support from our friends at LEED via their Pilot Credit 55.

Perhaps you have something to add?  Please share your comments with me.  I’d like to help raise awareness about this issue, and see only live pigeons on our sidewalks.


Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board.  He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,200+ companies from 135 industries in 106 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 348 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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Top Companies Tie Compensation to Sustainability

[fa icon="calendar'] May 9, 2013 9:38:49 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

By Guest Blogger, Keith Patterson

Companies commonly base executive compensation on performance, but a growing number of businesses have started associating top leaders' pay rates and bonuses to achieving corporate environmental goals. In essence, initiatives such as reducing energy use can lead to higher compensation for those in the corner offices.

According to a 2013 joint report done by the Investor Responsibility Research Center and the Sustainable Investments Institute, 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies link executive pay to sustainability. These incentives are helping companies across the world accelerate green goals and reduce carbon footprints.

Caterpillar

In recent years Caterpillar, a worldwide manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, has dedicated itself to corporate sustainability. As motivation for senior executives to reach these goals, the company has started tying compensation to sustainability performance. In 2011, a reported 84 percent of Caterpillar's executive officers had compensation tied to the company's performance.

Caterpillar has lofty environmental goals, such as a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 25 percent increase of energy efficiency by 2020. But in some cases, it has already exceeded these goals. According to its annual report, the company has surpassed its energy efficiency goals by 22 percent by 2012. Part of this achievement is based on Caterpillar's dedication to renewable energy resources. In 2012, 18.2 percent of the company's energy was comes from green energy.

In addition, Caterpillar has made a commitment to follow LEED standards for all new construction worldwide. LEED is the international standard for sustainable construction, design and maintenance. These buildings will focus on energy efficiency as well as reduced waste.

Intel

In the world of technology, Intel is a leading computer and processor manufacturer. But in terms of the green movement, the company is leaps and bounds ahead of most companies in sustainability initiatives.

[csrhubwidget company="Intel-corporation" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]

Intel has been linking sustainability and compensation for its CEO and top leaders since 2008. In addition, all employee bonuses are tied to its green goals. The company encourages its employees to find new ways to innovate sustainability at work and recognizes successful staff with its Intel Environmental Excellence Awards. Employees who received the award in 2010 collectively saved the company $136 million.

By 2010, the company reduced its emissions by 40 percent, saved more than $5 million through recycling programs and created more energy-efficient products for customers. To further limit its carbon footprint, Intel committed to purchasing 2.5 billion kWh worth of renewable energy credits, which will offset 85 percent of the company's energy use. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that's enough clean energy to power 218,000 homes!

Shell

Though you may not think one of the world's leading energy and gasoline companies would be green, Shell  has some impressive sustainability standards. The company makes the environment a performance evaluation criterion for its 87,000 employees worldwide, including upper level executives.  Shell's employees are evaluated for individual and team efforts for accomplishing the company's green goals. Their performance in these initiatives is directly related to their annual bonus amount.

As part of its sustainability commitment, Shell works to provide energy-efficient alternatives to its customers around the world. As a major producer of oil and gas, Shell has a significant investment in alternative fuels and research for renewable options. In the past five years, the company spent $2.2 billion to develop alternative energy. Additionally, the company has increasingly used natural gas as a cleaner-burning fuel than coal to create energy.

Shell is significantly invested in wind energy, with wind farms located in Europe and North America. The company estimates that its emission-free generation of electricity eliminates more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of AMagill via Flickr CC.


Keith Patterson is a copy writer for EnergySavings.com and freelance blogger on energy innovation and design for the greater good. Follow him on Twitter: @kcpatterson711

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 7,000+ companies from 135 industries in 91 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 200 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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Uncertainly Certified

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 28, 2011 8:26:32 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

 

The folks at BigRoom have worked for a couple of years on a side project (their main goal is to launch an  .ECO suffix for the Internet).  They are trying to capture, document, and categorize the various green, eco, and sustainability-oriented certification programs.  So far, they’ve found more than 300.

 

Some are pretty well known.  For instance, the Department of Energy and the EPA combined in 1992 to launch their Energy Star ratings.  They now put Energy Star ratings on appliances, building supplies, and homes.  Underwriters Laboratories—which is famous for its hugely-respected safety ratings—also offers UL Environment (ULE) certificates.  The Forest Stewardship Council has gotten a lot of wood and paper manufacturers to make the changes needed to earn its FSC certificate.  And buildings that conform to the US Building Council’s LEED standard get a lot of attention both from their owners and from those who work in the buildings—and seem to enjoy them.

 

Certification is also becoming part of supply chain management.  Manufacturers (like Procter & Gamble and Seventh Generation) want to ensure that their suppliers are well-behaved.  Retailers (like WalMart and Home Depot) need to be sure that the products they sell are socially responsible.  These companies are sending out surveys and asking for data on carbon use, chemical emissions, and labor practices.  Suppliers are hoping that getting approved in one program will turn into a credential they can use to get passes from other programs.

 

1400175456_f5bcfb085dOf course, it is hard to know how far to trust certificates.  How can a consumer know whether or not the wood in a chair really came from a sustainably harvested tree?  How can we know that the chair wasn’t made using child labor or that the varnish on it didn’t pollute the water in the community where it was made?  How do we know that the drivers who transported our chair were properly trained and that their pensions and health care are adequate?  Can we be sure that the store we bought the chair in didn’t just stick a fake certificate on it?

 

The fact that most certification programs rely on self-reported data can make things worse.  Some suggest that a third party, like a consultant or an accounting firm, verify this data.  But there is obvious pressure on these third parties to give favorable rulings.  In most certification programs, there is no central repository of the data that has been collected.  Thus, there is no easy way to cross check the data, either at a top level or in detail.

 

There are a few independent organizations that  do their own testing and rating of products.  For instance, the Eco Index is tracking 377 eco labels in 211 countries and trying to put together a supply-side view of product sustainability.  ULE is working on an ambitious plan to integrate rigorous third party review of sustainability information into a standard called ULE880.  We are also seeing people use our ratings as a high-level way to test whether or not a company is likely to be telling the truth, when it claims to be performing responsibly and sustainably. 

 

In the end, certification systems need the same kind of independent audit process that financial statements receive—plus the same external review and criticism that financial statements are supposed to get from investors and analysts.  We hope that our CSRHUB ratings may eventually become part of this feedback loop.

 


 

Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.

Photo inset: Creative Commons licensed by joiseeshowaa.

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