Tag Archives: sustainability

GPM Calculator

In June, I blogged about Fuqua professors Rick Larrick and Jack Soll and their push to improve fuel efficiency and consumer behavior by simply changing the measurement from MPG to GPM.  Today, Duke Research Advantage blogged that this work was featured in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue.  They’ve also launched a new GPM calculator to find your current GPM, compare cars, or see the GPM for all 2009 cars.  More information about this research, including an interactive fuel-efficiency quiz and a video of Larrick and Soll discussing their work is available at mpgillusion.com.

Staying pure after selling out

This week’s HBS Working Knowledge newsletter starts off with an interesting proposition: what happens when a well-known socially responsible business is acquired by a multinational?  Professors James E. Austin and Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard discuss their recent research, which examines such acquisitions as Ben & Jerry’s by Unilever, Tom’s of Maine by Colgate and Stonyfield Farms by Dannon.  Their work suggests that it is possible for a company to stay true to its social mission after acquisition, presented in a working paper asking “Can the Virtuous Mouse and the Wealthy Elephant Live Happily Ever After?”  

The discussion touches on some great questions, including why the elephants would want to acquire mice with a conscience and why it could be a good deal for the mouse (they’re not selling out – they’re scaling up).

An excerpt is below, but it’s totally worth your time to read the entire (brief) HBS interview with Austin and Leonard:

Q: How can elephants protect the mouse’s social value and brand integrity?

A: The more effective large companies have recognized that preserving the social icon’s distinctive culture and business approach is essential to preserving its key success factors. Consequently, they retain a large degree of organizational independence so as to prevent “contamination” of the social technology.

This stands in contrast to the common approach in acquisitions to integrate and rationalize the assets into the new owner’s systems, structure, and culture. Some of the specific mechanisms used in successful mouse-elephant agreements include governance structures and processes that give the “mice” review and even veto power over actions by the “elephants” that might jeopardize those elements that are deemed essential to the social values underlying the brand’s integrity.

Retaining the social entrepreneur in the joint venture is highly desirable

Going Negative with Green Messaging

Struggling for years with a decreasing market share and tumbling stock price, Nortel is going negative with a campaign against Cisco.  This Wall Street Journal article details their PR blitz utilizing bloggers, YouTube, anti-Cisco websites, and trade show demonstrations.  The message?  Use Nortel to avoid “the Cisco energy tax.”

Nortel is countering with the argument that Cisco’s technology, as successful as it has been in the marketplace, is an energy hog. In its ads, Nortel claims that Cisco’s data networks “are costing you 100% too much.” At trade shows, Nortel staff attach wattage meters to comparable Nortel and Cisco gear in an effort to show that Nortel’s gear is much more energy-efficient. The company posted a film of the demo on YouTube.

Energy prices are finally rising to a point where being energy-efficient is not just something to make a consumer feel good, but something that affects purchasing decisions by price-sensitive customers.  That Nortel is taking this message to large corporate customers is evidence that at least some people in corporate purchasing departments are concerned with cutting costs by conserving energy.

In a previous post, I talked about the strategy of going negative with marketing, and why it’s rarely done.  This is one of those cases where a very small company with much to gain and little to lose takes on the market leader with a campaign aimed at gaining some awareness and hoping to steal just a bit of the leader’s market share.  Or, as pointed out in the WSJ article, survive and keep their current customers as their competition makes persuasive presentations to switch.  It’s not unusual for a smaller company to paint the larger one as evil, and it’s not that unusual to use an environmental rationale to make that argument.  What might be unusual is that with the price of energy rising so quickly, customers might listen.

And frankly, Cisco’s response that “there are no industry standards to measure “green”; and Cisco’s gear meets the environmental requirements of the product-testing company Miercom” falls a bit flat with me.  Not a counter-argument about green manufacturing or building initiatives, but a lack of industry standards? No pledge for improved performance or details of why the additional energy usage creates a superior product?  This lack of rebuttal leaves me thinking Cisco either isn’t taking Nortel seriously or isn’t taking energy efficiency seriously –  either case may not be a big mistake now, but could be a huge mistake in the future.

Aspen Institute’s FIELD on Microfinance and Social Enterprise

Just learned of this nifty resource from the NP-Enterprise listserv: a new article called “Social Enterprise and MicroEnterprise: Understanding the Connection” posted at the Aspen Institute’s FIELD homepage (a program of the Aspen Institute focused on microenterprise as an anti-poverty strategy).  It’s a great brief on the basics of social enterprise, social purpose businesses, and micorenterprise.

Also on the homepage are links to a webinar on how microenterprises are using social enterprise to increase sustainability (free registration required, 90 min – unfortunately not able to be downloaded and saved, and I haven’t had time to listen to it in full yet) and a recent FIELD forum (their newsletter) focused on social enterprise.  Both of these resources include a case study of Mountain BizWorks, a project right here in North Carolina (up in Asheville) that I was previously unaware of.  Great reading!

McKinsey on Strategy – First Quarter Newsletter

I think I’ve mentioned before that I find the McKinsey Quarterly’s free resources available by signing up for their newsletter to be top notch.  This quarter’s entries for top strategy articles are no exception.  The descriptions below are taken directly from the e-mail newsletter.  I’ve deleted the ones that are only available to premium (paid) subscribers.  I’ve only read the climate change and Brad Bird/Pixar ones so far, but both were excellent.

Business strategies for climate change
April 2008
The value at stake is huge. The winners will be companies that reposition themselves to take advantage of a low-carbon future.

Dissecting global trends: An example from Italy
March 2008
Executives should examine the impact of trends on subindustries, segments, categories, and micromarkets before placing their bets.

The promise of prediction markets: A roundtable
April 2008
Prediction markets draw together information dispersed across the company, but they face organizational and legal challenges.

Innovation lessons from Pixar: An interview with Oscar-winning director Brad Bird
April 2008
His approach to fostering creativity among animators holds powerful lessons for any executive hoping to nurture innovation in teams and organizations.

Voluntourism Discussion Happening Now

An interesting discussion is happening on Social Edge about “Travel with a Conscience” and includes not only the more familiar eco-tourism/sustainable tourism, but also “voluntourism” and/or philanthropy tourism.  My positive experience with Solimar Marketing, which is eco/sustainable tourism-based, makes this discussion particularly interesting to me.

Virgin biofuel flight planned

The New York Times reported today that Virgin Atlantic will conduct a test of one of its Boeing 747s using biofuels. The most interesting thing to me is that there seems to have been a lot of thought put into both the sustainability and the business aspects (even though this first step is actually a blend of 20% biofuel and 80% conventional jet fuel).

Sustainability: Virgin spokesman Paul Charles is quoted as saying the company rejected fuels derived from crops like palm oil because of the land that would be needed to cultivate such crops, and that the biofuel production would not compete with food or freshwater resources.

Business: This joint project between Virgin, Boeing, and GE Aviation splits the costs of innovation among several companies, and had smart business requirements. For example, the test plane will use one of GE Aviation’s CF6 engines as a “drop-in solution,” meaning the use of biofuel requires no modification, and will not affect the engine’s performance or range.

I recently read a New Yorker article about Branson and his work with Al Gore to create the Virgin Earth Challenge with its $25 million prize.  I’m impressed that he’s so intent on solutions that are market-driven, commercial, and don’t require major lifestyle changes, as I believe that these are the ones that are truly scalable.  An excellent article that shows that for Branson, business is very personal.  I just wonder whether he’ll consider himself eligible to win his own prize?

McKinsey Interviews: Al Gore and More!

Consulting giant McKinsey & Co has a free subscription service offering a subscription to their business publication, the McKinsey Quarterly. While they do have some articles that are “premium” and require you to purchase full access, a startlingly large percentage of what they put out is free. It’s shocking, but they offer more free content than any of the other business knowledge services I subscribe to (HBS, SSIR, Net Impact) with the exception of Origo Inc’s cross-sector news which is totally free and published less frequently. N.B. All of these services require registration, which means giving out your name, e-mail address and company affiliation, but I find that the information I receive is worth far more than this small amount of personal data. Also, links to each of these services can be found at the right side of this page in the “Social Entrepreneurship Resources” list – no time to create individual links today – sorry!

Today I received an e-mail with the McKinsey Quarterly’s top interviews of 2007. I thought that folks might be interested in one with Al Gore and David Blood on investing in sustainability.

The others from the list that I found particularly helpful and/or interesting were:

Strategy’s strategist: An interview with Richard Rumelt
A giant in the field of strategy ruminates on strategic planning, diversification and focus, and the role of the CEO.

Crafting a message that sticks: An interview with Chip Heath
The key to effective communication: make it simple, make it concrete, and make it surprising.

Promoting growth and social progress: An interview with the president of Chile
Michelle Bachelet discusses her views on the roots of political upheaval in Latin America, and the link between economic development and the fight against poverty.

Leading change: An interview with the CEO of Deere & Company
Bob Lane details the steps his company took to engage the whole organization in an operational and cultural transformation.

Real estate, social entrepreneurship, spirituality and more…

I’m back at work after a brief holiday break with my wife and her parents – it feels great to eat too much and just spend time relaxing with family during the holidays! My mother-in-law (MIL), a doctor, is not usually conversant in social entrepreneurship, so she shocked me by letting me know about a social venture I hadn’t heard about yet! I thought that the hot socially-conscious gift this year was the goat, given to families and communities in need throughout the world through organizations like World Vision and Mercy Corps. However, according to the mainstream media that my MIL has been watching, the hot gift is actually The Giving Tree GiveCard™.

The GiveCard is a pre-paid MasterCard® gift card, with a twist. In order to activate the card, the gift recipient must go online and donate 10% of the value of the card to the charity of his/her choice (any non-profit listed in GuideStar). The Nashville, TN company Giving Tree, LLC seems to have hit a home run, garnering this much attention for its flagship product in the few months since an October press release announced both the product and the formation of the company. A for-profit company targeting socially conscious consumers, Giving Tree hopes to have a dual social impact: 1) It teaches gift recipients (often children and teens) the rewards of philanthropy, and 2) It raises money for non-profits. I give them kudos for great marketing, a name that’s easy to remember (and brings strong emotional associations with Shel Silverstein’s book), and a clever way to tap into the socially conscious consumer who wants to teach philanthropy to their kids in a way that won’t engender anger and resentment (e.g. “I wanted new games for my Wii, but my dad just gave me a card saying that I gave a goat to some family in Africa”).

Another conversation was focused on real estate, and the way that the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) and the Triad (Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem) continue to grow despite the national housing market slump. When my MIL asked about potential property investment in Hillsborough, my wife (who is much more up-to-date on such matters than I am) replied that all of the good investment property there has already been bought up by developers and real estate investment firms. Apparently, in order to be able to find a deal on property in the I-40/I-85 corridor between the Triangle and the Triad, you need to go west to Mebane or farther.

This confirmed for me the brilliance and foresight of my friends and colleagues involved in the creation of the Stone House, a project of stone circles. A 70-acre retreat offering space for spiritual renewal and strategic action, this non-profit social enterprise is a brilliantly conceived and well-planned endeavor including elements of environmental and financial sustainability. Still in construction (very green construction, at that), you can learn more about this facility at its website (including a download of their long-term strategy) and keep track of their ongoing efforts at their blog. I’ll be bringing some information on this facility back to the in-laws when we return this weekend for additional holiday celebrations with more extended family in town, including our beautiful nieces (who, despite living far away in Atlanta, have really enjoyed keeping track of one of my pet projects at work, the Museum’s Animal Department blog).

I found Free Rice in Blue Egg

Since one of my colleagues is going to be starting a blog on sustainability at the Museum, I’ve been keeping my eye out for potential resources for him. I had an hour of relative downtime this morning, so I started clearing through some of my unread e-mail, including November’s free newsletter from Origo Inc. Sidenote: I love their newsletters, but they’re so full of information and articles that I want to read, they often remain “marked as unread” for quite a while. I have the same problem with my physical/paper issues of the New Yorker, which I generally skim immediately and, if possible, tear out articles to read later (although often there are so many articles I want to read that I end up just putting the entire issue in a pile to be read later).

One of the several links I followed was to a site called Blue Egg, a “beta” site for all things eco. Great design, interesting articles, and ambitious video. Nice enough for me to recommend a look, but not quite enough for me to sign up for their newsletter, on first visit at least. The thing that actually excited me the most about this was a link to Free Rice – a vocabulary quiz game that provides donations to alleviate world hunger via banner ads at the bottom of each quiz question. I answered about 10 questions and was disappointed in my score of 40, and kept going and slowly my score rose. I checked the FAQ and found that the best possible score is 50, so I’m pretty happy with my score now. With 20 grains of rice for each correct answer and questions that get harder or easier depending on your score to date (like the GMAT), I’ve currently earned 1200 grains of rice (that’s 60 correct answers for the math-impaired) and risen to a vocab level of 44. Thanks for making me take Latin, Mom! Thanks for making reading with a dictionary close at hand a pleasure, David Foster Wallace! To be fair, many of my correct answers have been guesses – the multiple choice format has always helped me in this way – but I have been surprised at how many words I’ve known without resorting to multiple guess. I’m guessing squire on this next one:free-rice-screencap.jpg