Taking a look at corporate responsibility  
"What does the world need most that we are uniquely able to provide?" That’s the question Jeffrey Hollender, Seventh Generation co-founder and chief inspired protagonist, poses on the company Web page heralding the release of its 2008 Corporate Conscious Report.

Seventh Generation, which makes environmentally friendly and natural household and personal care products, is a progressive and growing company. For a company that has long been looking ahead and measuring its success against the greater good, Hollender wonders about the future corporate social responsibility and its far-reaching impact on businesses.

…a growing breed of good companies has heard President Obama's call to a “new era of responsibility." Fueled by an emerging generation of business leaders, these companies are committed to merging economic growth with social justice. They view the financial crisis and the climate crisis as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to unleash principled behavior for the greater good. For them, values and principles are sources of innovation—opportunities to create products and services that deliver a Return on Purpose as well as a Return on Investment.

And, so, we return to Hollender’s initial question about what the world needs that our business can uniquely provide. Thought-provoking discussion topics, no doubt.

This is a great time to step back and take a look at your own business and its impact on your local community, your state, your region and ultimately the world. For many companies, it means taking an initial step toward more recycling or reducing energy consumption in the office. For others, it could mean going further in its effort by selecting like-minded suppliers and vendors.

In this “new era responsibility,” more individuals are taking a stand for the environment and that means businesses have to get on board. It explains why a company like Seventh Generation is growing – its products and its corporate mission strike a cord with many consumers. Can the same be said for your business?

If your company had to put together a corporate responsibility report, what would it say? Post a comment and let us know how your office is making a difference.

For inspiration, check out the online book Seventh Generation is working on that highlights best practices in corporate social responsibility. The company has partnered up with Justmeans, an online network for responsible business, to explore how the growing breed of socially responsible companies can become a voice in shifting business as we know it. Stop by the Web site to submit your ideas to the book or to simply be inspired.

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Take your office back to school 
The stores are filled with crayons, markers, glue sticks and Hannah Montana notebooks. It’s back-to-school time. OK, so you’re not going back to school, you’re just headed back to the office for another wild work week. But you can turn this back-to-school time into an opportunity to introduce some green into the workplace.

Seems this time of the year is perfect for offices to take stock of their supply cabinets and look for ways to reduce consumption or switch at least a few items to more environmentally options.

• Paper clips made from recycled steel.
• Pencils made from blue jeans and newspaper.
• This looks neat: a staple-free stapler, which makes it easier to drop your paper in the recycling bin or use the blank sides of that 30-page report for printing without having to pick out the staples. Check it out here.
• Check out TerraCycle Inc. for a host of nifty office supplies made from recycled products. They have pouch pencil cases, folders and lunch boxes made from old juice boxes. And you’re sure to be the talk of the boardroom with a notebook made from an old Double Stuff Oreo wrapper.

These days it’s fairly easy to find recycled paper, notepads and Post-it Notes made of 30 percent postconsumer content (or more). In fact, just about all stores carry some environmentally friendly office supplies, and larger stores have devoted entire product lines to earth-friendly items, such as Staples EcoEasy and Office Deport Green.

But you carry this school concept beyond the office supplies. Try turning the next few weeks into a time to educate your co-workers, management and customers with a “back to school – green style” theme.

A couple of ideas to get you started:
• Pack your lunch. For one week, encourage all employees to bring their lunch. The catch is the lunches have to be sustainable – put food in reusable containers, bring a cloth napkin and pack some locally grown fruits or veggies.
• No printing week. Employees are allowed to print two sheets of paper a day, which gets them thinking about whether a document really needs printed.
• Community service grade. Invite a guest speaker or two from local environment groups to talk about their organizations and how employees can get involved, either individually as a company.

It’s a great chance to educate your co-workers about being more environmentally conscious and in a fun way. And, the best part: no final exams.

Ideas for how to educate your co-workers on going green? Post a comment and share your ideas.

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A green building pioneer 

Mary Lou LoPreste’s goal is simple: to ensure the water, the mountains and the earth she has always enjoyed will be around for her children and grandchildren.

LoPreste is probably most well known for her work on Sun Harbor Marina, a property she previously owned and managed in the San Diego Harbor. The marina complex was the first marina to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

When she first mentioned the idea of renovating the marina into a sustainable property, no one knew what she was talking about, LoPreste said.

The marina project, which was completed in early 2005 and was awarded LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council the following year, was truly ahead of its time. LoPreste said they recycled about 90 percent of the buildings that were taken down. The marina – which relies heavily on natural lighting – saves more than 35 percent on water and electricity.

Other green features included interior lights that automatically shut off after 9 p.m. and a smart energy system that will turn off the air conditioning if a window is open.

The stone used in the development was mined within 1,200 miles of San Diego. LoPreste opted to use recycled lumber and renewable building materials. At the time, using those types of materials cost LoPreste about 5 percent more than it would cost today because now they are more readily available.

“I believe we have to have renewable lumber,” she said. “Cutting trees is completely stupid and irresponsible and so disruptive.”

LoPreste no longer owns Sun Harbor Marina, but she still is spreading the green message around the country, working as a green building consultant, particularly encouraging marina owners to color their facilities green.

LoPreste is truly passionate about green building and urges businesses to look at how important it is to consider the aspects of building green. And yet her message extends to all businesses and individuals as she makes a case for the simple changes that have a big impact: recycling, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs or turning off the water when brushing your teeth.

“You have to open your eyes a little bit wider and see what the impact of billions of people can be,” she said. “Its’ awareness, awareness, awareness. We are in a global warming stage and people really need to wake up to that.”

As for her three grown children and four grandchildren, the activism runs in the family. Even her grandchildren conserve water or pick up trash when they are out taking a walk. “They are very aware of what’s happening,” she said. “You have to be the pebble that’s thrown in the water.”

LoPreste will share her message with anyone who will listen to the issues facing the global environment.

“I’d really like to give a sharp wakeup call to people and encourage people to stop thinking this is a transient thing, this devastation and global warming,” she said. “Just do one or two things that will make a difference. Start spreading the word. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but we all need to wake up and think about what we’ve experienced in our lives and ensure future generations have the same resources we’ve enjoyed.”

For more about Mary Lou LoPreste, visit her Web site.
(Photo courtesy/lopreste.com)

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A truly green office 
It’s one thing for a business to commit to implementing green office practices like recycling, installing light fixtures that turn off when no one is in the room or installing a bike rack for employees who don’t want to drive to the office. But it takes an even larger commitment to turn the entire physical office building green.

Major commercial real estate company CB Richard Ellis has enrolled 225 office buildings in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Existing Building (LEED EB) program. According to a news release, at the end of 2007, CBRE committed to enroll a minimum 100 buildings in the then-emerging LEED EB process. Now, the company is the largest third-party manager of buildings in this program for environmental sustainability.

The properties CBRE enrolled in the LEED EB program total more than 57 million square feet and are owned by more than 55 different investors and corporations in 21 states. That’s a pretty big green footprint.

“When we made our commitment in 2007 there were fewer than 60 buildings in the entire country with LEED EB designation,” said David Pogue, CBRE’s national director of sustainability. “The key to our success has been building a strong foundation, by both partnering effectively with our clients and deploying a strong internal certification team with great technical expertise and a genuine passion for enhancing sustainable practices in the buildings we manage.”

CBRE currently manages 17 buildings that have attained LEED EB certification; that total is expected to grow to 50 buildings by the end of 2009. A Green Thumbs Up to CB Richard Ellis.

Earlier this month, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority broke ground on its Green Build, formerly known as the Terminal Development Program, which will be the most extensive improvements ever carried out at San Diego International, according to Aviation News.

The project includes the construction of 10 new jet gates, a dual-level roadway at Terminal 2 to separate arriving and departing passengers and new dining and shopping options. Airport officials plan to incorporate sustainable design principles into the project with a larger goal of achieving LEED silver certification.

Even as high profile buildings like the Empire State Building and the Sears Tower take strides toward being more efficient, the need continues for buildings to take a look at how they can be more environmentally friendly. And in this current economic climate, it just makes sense to gain a competitive edge.

Here’s a great piece from Mother Nature Network about the need for commercial buildings to go green.

As blogger Melissa Hincha-Ownby writes,
As more companies begin to commit to sustainability, the demand for green office space will only rise. Depending on the size of the project, green building retrofits can take years to complete so wise building owners are getting started on these renovations sooner vs. later.

Do you have examples of commercial buildings that are going green? Let us know! We’re always looking for companies to profile on their journey to sustainability.

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Will Walmart's drive toward sustainability work? 

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, announced this week that they are planning to put green/sustainability labeling on all of their products within the next five years.

Walmart today announced plans to develop a worldwide sustainable product index during a meeting with 1,500 of its suppliers, associates and sustainability leaders at its home office. The index will establish a single source of data for evaluating the sustainability of products.

The company will ask their suppliers (all their suppliers) to answer fifteen questions:

1. Have you measured your corporate greenhouse gas emissions?
2. Have you opted to report your greenhouse gas emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)?
3. What are your total greenhouse gas emissions reported in your most recently completed report?
4. Have you set publicly available greenhouse gas reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets?
5. If measured, please report total amount of solid waste generated from the facilities that produce your product(s) for Wal-Mart Inc for the most recent year measured.
6. Have you set publicly available solid waste reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets?
7. If measured, please report total water use from the facilities that produce your product(s) for Wal-Mart Inc for the most recent year measured.
8. Have you set publically available water use reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets?
9. Have you established publicly available sustainability purchasing guidelines for your direct suppliers that address issues such as environmental compliance, employment practices, and product/ingredient safety?
10. Have you obtained 3rd party certifications for any of the products that you sell to Walmart? If so, from the list of certifications below, please select those for which any of your products are, or utilize materials that are, currently certified.
11. Do you know the location of 100% of the facilities that produce your product(s)?
12. Before beginning a business relationship with a manufacturing facility, do you evaluate their quality of production and capacity for production?
13. Do you have a process for managing social compliance at the manufacturing level?
14. Do you work with your supply base to resolve issues found during social compliance evaluations and also document specific corrections and improvements?
15. Do you invest in community development activities in the markets you source from and/or operate within?

The company will apply a rating to the products based on an algorithm yet to be announced. It is unclear how they will determine the accuracy of the replies -- what oversight, if any, will be instituted and applied. Also yet to be announced will be how that rating will be displayed. It may be as simple as a green tag or as complicated as a link on the product to a customer's smart phone which will then give the customer detailed information about the product's sustainability.

Environmental groups laud this attempt to go green at the corporate level and point out that, as the world's largest retailer, Walmart may be best positioned to pull this off. Corporate associations and academics have raised concern of increased costs. Walmart's spokesman disagrees and says that with less packaging there will be lest cost (concentrated detergent is cited as an example).

“Nobody else could pull this off,” said Michelle Harvey at Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups involved in the creation of the index.

The question, of course, is whether even Wal-Mart can make it happen.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of work for a lot of people,” said Jon Johnson, a professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, whom the company asked to help create the index, along with Jay Golden at Arizona State University. “But obviously we’re optimistic about the prospects.”

The idea of an index, a single sustainability standard across the corporate world, that companies and suppliers could follow raises the ante for other large corporate retailers (i.e. Costco, Target, Kmart, etc) to participate or loose out on environmentally conscious consumers. It also puts pressure on manufacturers and suppliers of all stripes to change their business model to the index or lose out as environmentally conscious consumers chose other products over theirs.

Walmart is projecting a five year span to (figure out how to) implement this. It will be interesting to see if the sheer size and influence of the 'big box' retailer can make this a tipping point toward sustainability.

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