Voices of Challenge
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Question: How do we incent consumers to take meaningful, positive action on the issue of climate change?
Companies love to talk about how they've achieved cost savings through energy-efficiency programs (rightfully so!), but consumers may be getting an unfortunate mixed message. While quick to acknowledge cost savings to show their energy management efforts are working, companies are much slower to extend any kind of savings to consumers who want to reward them for using less energy (and emitting less CO2). Instead, the conventional corporate wisdom is to ask consumers to pay more for products and services with green attributes rather than explicitly share the return on investment in climate action. An obvious “climate” discount or rebate could connect climate action to lower costs and change the marketplace.
Question: Can one label adequately compare products' sustainability?
In my humble opinion, not yet. Labels represent a quick “seal of approval” that a product meets standard for quality, labor or environmental integrity. Until recently they have tended to focus on only one or two attributes. A product may contain recycled material, but the process to recycle may produce a highly toxic pollutant. Consumers are conflicted and confused…the good news is that there is a movement here at Staples and other companies toward full life cycle accounting where all of the most material impacts are tracked and measured. We look forward to the day when that product labeling will easily convey comparative scores for consumers to compare cradle to cradle impacts.
Question: Which NGOs and local community partners have an effective track record of helping companies scale their efforts to improve the lives of factory workers?
What workers want most is good wages earned in a safe workplace. The best way to achieve this at scale is to ensure that rights are respected throughout company business operations by involving NGOs in supply chain implementation, not simply as ‘after the fact’ social welfare providers.
How? Integrate NGOs into the analysis of procurement, pricing, budgeting and hiring which define whether positive change is possible, as Verité, the FLA and ETI are doing. Ensure that social audits have workers at their center, like COVERCO’s. Build worker ownership of working conditions, as in Verité’s China collaboration with Timberland. Train workers on rights and life skills like the Panyu (China) Migrant Workers Documentation Handling Service Center.
Clean Water Action
Question: How can companies scale engagement efforts to maximize the impact to their communities?
5 key strategies: 1 partner with NGOs to select activities that connect employees with local causes, with your customers, and with other NGO supporters; 2 include a fundraising component/option so participating NGOs receive financial resources to advance their mission longer term; 3 include activities in which anyone can participate and where creativity and enthusiasm can amplify measurable results (for most people, “volunteering” includes personal philanthropy); 4 keep it fun, even when hard work is involved – shared fun creates great memories and brings people back for more; 5 thank all participants and recognize outstanding effort and leadership.