Voices of Challenge
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Question: How do we incent consumers to take meaningful, positive action on the issue of climate change?
The most effective way for consumers to take meaningful, positive action on climate change is to vote with their dollars. As the green movement grows and the economy tightens, consumers are becoming more discerning about where they spend their hard-earned money. Our work shows that consumers want to support companies whose values and actions align with their own, so companies demonstrating they are truly taking a leadership role around the environment and social justice will benefit from the support of conscientious consumers. Green America’s National Green Pages™ (http://www.greenpages.org) is a great resource to find businesses that have been rigorously screened for their environmental and social justice commitments.
Question: Can one label adequately compare products' sustainability?
This, unfortunately, is a ridiculously complicated question! I wish it weren’t so. Having said that, it would be great if companies should aim for a one-size-fits-all label for their products, ideally certified by an independent third party. It should take into account the overall responsibility of the company (a CSR rating) and a science-based lifecycle assessment of the product (carbon footprint, water usage, use of recycled material, etc.). It would seem to be to be possible, if not easy, to reduce all this to a couple of letter grades, A through E, with one for the company and the other for the product. Fortunately, smart people are already at work on this. I’m thinking of the sustainability consortium convened by Wal-Mart and the folks at UL Environment, among others. Let’s all wish them luck.
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?
Companies have realized that complying with labor legislation alone is not enough to foster productivity and achieve sustainability. They have redirected strategies and managerial initiatives towards approaches that improve living conditions of workers and their families. In developing countries like the Dominican Republic, several NGOs like CIPAF are working with different free zone businesses to conduct research that aims to improve workers’ quality of life and to increase productivity. The transition from “research” to “action” is difficult, since changing cultural and thinking takes time, money, effort, and will. One local example of a company focusing on actionable change is Knights Apparel, which is working with residents of the Villa Altagracia community to increase wages and transform the community’s economy.
Question: How can companies scale engagement efforts to maximize the impact to their communities?
There are two key things companies can do: 1) Focus for Impact: Companies often dilute their influence by tackling too much. Instead, they should carefully choose the impact they want to have, and leverage the power of scale by focusing their resources—like money, people and knowledge—to single-mindedly attack problems. 2) Search and Amplify: Often, great things are already happening in pockets within organizations. Creating flexible, digital, social platforms that enable collaboration can accelerate scaling of ideas and innovation. Companies MUST approach social investments with a scale mindset—leveraging their assets to deliver maximum impact and ROI. It’s all about doing more, with less.