UN Figueras to HBS Alums: Elites Can Change the World…And Invest in Change

By Carol Pierson Holding and Cynthia Figge

 

We are inspired by a call with Harvard Business School alumni, Dan Abbasi, low carbon Harvard Business Schoolinvestor and executive producer of the Emmy-winning television series on climate change called “Years of Living Dangerously,” and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Fifty of us listened as Figueres briefed us on the status of climate change action and expectations for the UN talks this week. She and Dan Abbasi were engaging with elite members of the business community to encourage us to apply pressure wherever possible to global leaders coming together on Tuesday to tackle this issue. It was meaningful to us because it marks the first time we’ve been networked with other HBS grads for social action related to climate change.

 

Why start with an NGO effort like the UN climate talks? In Abbasi’s words,

 

“The climate change issue has suffered from a serious diffusion of responsibility and resulting inaction – business is waiting for government to act, and government is waiting for business to give them permission.”

 

In other words, we need to move both at once to effect timely action on the climate, to keep global temperatures within the limits of human safety.

 

We have to say, it’s heartening to hear from this contingent when so many of our fellow graduates seem to be deep in the deny or postpone camp.

 

Abbasi’s main carrot for calling this group together was to show “the huge opportunity to put capital to work very profitably” and to “use the HBS network to be a force for social change that it already is.” And of course the stick will be carbon pricing. Along the way, Figueres was able to make several points that elucidated these motivational pillars:

 

  • $9 trillion is needed for clean energy infrastructure – the largest investment opportunity in our history.
  • China is in the lead in this transition with huge wind and solar commitments for the future. Even now, it produces double the European Union in energy from wind and has started development of a solar plant that will yield as many gigawatts as a nuclear facility. China is also helping other countries to make the transition, investing in Australia’s plan for renewables in the Pacific Islands.
  • Being the most vulnerable to climate change, ocean-dependent nations are the first to make the transition. For example, Samoa will be completely transitioned to renewables by 2016, proving it can be done.
  • Forty countries have carbon pricing in place now, plus seven pilots in China, several around the US (California for one) and elsewhere. Global carbon pricing should happen quickly once China aggregates its regional carbon pricing plans into a single national price, a price that will be easy for others around the globe to adopt as well.
  • Public opinion and an engaged citizenry is critical to these efforts. It was the outrage of China’s public over health risks of its extreme air pollution that moved that country. Here in the U.S., the People’s Climate March on Sunday the largest call for climate action in history, makes it visible to our government and UN representatives how widespread public support is.
  • The elite can exert their influence in targeted calls to government leaders and in sustainable business practices in their personal and professional lives, changes that will move sustainable behavior to the mainstream.

 

Abassi closed with a statement that climate change should not be a political issue, but an investment issue. The stick was left hanging, but as we learned years ago at the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future, smart companies like Dupont have been using their own internal carbon pricing for years, preparing for what they believe is the inevitable future. And by examining CSRHub’s ratings on Energy and Climate Change, as businesspeople, we can compare how companies are performing in this area, and take action.

 

Why was this confab so important? This is the start of an organized effort by the business elite to tackle the issue of climate change. That a small band of HBS alumni has started to build a movement is as thrilling as the global climate march. Climate change advocates already include such prominent business leaders as Michael Bloomberg and Henry Paulson, but they are outliers among Wall Street Journal readers who roundly deny or even mock efforts to address climate change. This inaugural meeting of HBS supporters could eventually change minds, moving our work to the mainstream of the business elite as well.

 

 

 


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,300+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 
Cynthia FiggeCynthia Figge is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. She is COO and Cofounder of CSRHub, the world’s largest database that aggregates and organizes data and knowledge on the social, environmental, and governance performance of 9,300 companies to provide sustainability ratings to the marketplace. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Prior to founding EKOS, she was an officer of LIN Broadcasting / McCaw Cellular, and led new businesses and services with Weyerhaeuser, New York Daily News; and with New Ventures. Cynthia is Board Director of the Compassionate Action Network International. Cynthia received her bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She lives in the Seattle area.

 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,300+ companies from 135 industries in 106 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 343 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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CSRHub’s Bahar Gidwani Speaking at Sustainable Brand’s New Metrics ‘14

CSRHub CEO and Co-founder Bahar Gidwani will be speaking at Sustainable Brand’sSustainable Brands '14 New Metrics ‘14, September 24-25, 2014 in Boston, MA.  Bahar will be on a discussion panel, Tapping the Crowd for Insights and Solutions: Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding, and the Personal Data Economy, along with executives from:
 
Reki Hattori, CTO, Datacoup

Thomas Malone, Director, Climate Co-Lab

Gwen Nguyen, Cause Director, Indiegogo

Bahar Gidwani, CEO, CSRHub

 

 

Tapping the Crowd for Insights and Solutions: Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding, and the Personal Data Economy

 

There is currently a boom in tech advances enabling companies to tap the crowd for multiple new types of data and solutions to complex business problems. Whether we’re talking about new ways to collect, store and trade personal data, or new tech vehicles for pooling collective intelligence in response to climate change, or creative applications of crowdfunding platforms – there is a lot of valuable knowledge in this field for sustainability, marketing and finance professionals!

 

Use the code NWSPKNM14 for 20% off  your pass and join us in Boston, Sept. 24-26.

 

 


 

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 9,100+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 339 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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Climate Change Advocates Need Positive Branding

By Carol Pierson Holding

 

The idea of branding climate change seems like another exercise in navel-gazing until you China pollutionconsider the effectiveness of the opposition. They’ve got branding down, relentlessly repeating the mantra, “science is inconclusive and solutions are exorbitant and unproven.” On the other hand, environmentalists repeat vague Cassandra-like warnings of “climate change” and “global warming,” supporting dire predictions with confusing statistics, hard-pressed to come up with simple, relevant messages.

 

Even relatively green media like the New York Times end up reinforcing the fossil fuel messages, especially in their business sections. In an unfortunately common example, Friday’s Huffington Post called out the New York Times for “overhyping the benefits of fracking…(claiming that it was) changing the economic calculus for old industries and downtrodden cities alike.” Fracking equals jobs and a better economy, the article claimed. But Huffington Post reporter Mark Gongloff quoted Dean Baker, co-director of the Center For Economic And Policy Research, who found that in fact fracking communities had a worse record for factory jobs than the U.S. as a whole. Still, when it’s reported in the New York Times

 

Climate deniers are brilliant at setting up simple, memorable and scary financial calculations that brand climate change activists as prioritizing the environment against the economy. They pit environmental health against jobs. They equate renewable energy with sky-high utility bills. They warn electric cars have no range and will leave you stranded and solar panels will burn your house down. And my favorite, heard quite a bit in the halls of Congress: why should the U.S. pay to clean up the atmosphere when China now emits more greenhouse gas than we do?

 

Again, even environmentally-friendly media reinforce this trope. The latest is last week’s Rolling Stone article titled “China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet.” The article is rife with fodder for climate solution obstructionists, starting with author Jeff Goodell’s front page called-out quote:  “If the world’s biggest polluter doesn’t radically reduce the amount of coal it burns within the next decade, nothing anyone does to stabilize the climate will matter.”

 

True, China’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is now over 10 billion metric tons a year, and 25 years of climate negotiations have failed utterly. But Goodell’s article did not have to lead with the negative. He could have highlighted that China is now the largest consumer of solar power and that this year, 60 percent of its new energy production was from renewable energy sources, even higher than the U.S. at 53.8 percent. That it’s making every effort to close coal plants. Or that even in the face of beatings or worse, its citizens are still rioting in the streets against fossil fuel production.

 

Iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser, creator of the “I Love New York” logo, developed a climate change branding campaign with buttons and billboards that feature a black circle fading to a small green strip at its bottom edge over the slogan “IT’S NOT WARMING. IT’S DYING.” Position this message against one of the current denier billboards that proclaims “’Green’ Climate Policies: Probably unnecessary. Certainly ineffectual. Ruinously expensive.” Which one sounds more rationale? More persuasive? Easier to adopt? Commenting for Fast Company, Adele Peters questions Glazer’s negative approach but remains hopeful that he’s tackled the challenge. Her closing thought is absolutely correct: “We need more brilliant designers and marketers tackling the messaging about climate change in different ways–especially in the U.S., which leads the world in climate denial.”

 

Photo courtesy of DaiLuo via Flickr CC.

 


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,100+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,100+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 339 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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Are Crowdfunded Companies Socially Responsible?

By Bahar Gidwani

 

Over the past few years, thousands of companies both in the U.S. and abroad have raised funds through crowdfunding.  Wikipedia defines the term as:

 

“Crowdfunding is the collection of finance from backers—the “crowd”—to fund an initiative and usually occurs on Internet platforms. The initiative could be a nonprofit (e.g. to raise funds for a school or social service organization), political (to support a candidate or political party), charitable (e.g. emergency funds for an ill person or to fund a critical operation), commercial (e.g. to create and sell a new product) or financing campaign for a startup company.”

 

We could expect crowdfunding to be especially attractive for younger entrepreneurs.  These “millennials” should tend to embrace newer, on-line methods of raising money—especially since they may not have started a venture before using traditional funding means.  Companies managed by millennials might also have more socially-positive styles of management than traditional companies and may target markets that care about sustainability and social issues.  As a result, we were hopeful that we could combine the 59 million data points in our CSRHub sustainability metrics database with data from Crowdnetic, and reveal a connection between crowdfunding and positive corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance.

 

Last fall, Crowdnetic, a New York-based company, launched CrowdWatch, a centralized hub that tracks offerings conducted under SEC Rule 506(c).  This rule allows private issuers to offer securities through general solicitation, as long as all purchasers are accredited investors and other conditions are met.  For more details, see http://www.sec.gov/info/smallbus/secg/general-solicitation-small-entity-compliance-guide.htm.  Since CrowdWatch’s launch, Crowdnetic has gathered data on thousands of companies (most of them commercial enterprises) that are seeking to raise funds under 506(c).  Crowdnetic aggregates and normalizes companies in its database, in accordance with its proprietary taxonomy.  A quick analysis of data gathered through the first half of this year found that 72 of a set of 3,540 companies were in industries such as “green building materials,” “solar & wind power,” or “organic food & beverages.”  Given our preliminary analysis, this indicates that crowdfunded companies do not appear to have an especially strong concentration in sustainability-oriented products.  The companies that did offer sustainable products were fairly evenly spread over a range of different industries.

 

 

We next looked in the CSRHub database for other types of sustainability performance data on the Crowdnetic-tracked companies.  Besides product information, CSRHub tracks characteristics such as leadership ethics, employee diversity, transparency and reporting, as well as supply chain practices.  We encountered a number of issues with this matching process:

 

    1. Companies use many name variants, and a number of companies may share a similar name.  The CSRHub database captures thousands of these name variants from its more than 300 sources.  Our staff conducted a company-by-company review of each potential match to ensure that we had accurate matches.
    2. All of the Crowdnetic data set companies were based in the U.S.  Only 3,871 or 43% of the roughly 9,000 companies CSRHub rates are in the U.S.  This limited our opportunities for matching.
    3. The companies Crowdnetic tracks are small, privately-held companies (typically under $100 million in revenue). Most of the companies CSRHub rates are large (greater than $100 million in revenue) and publicly traded (we rate about 1,000 private companies, NGOs and government entities).

 

At the end of the matching process, we found only two companies who had both received crowdfunding and had received enough attention for their sustainability performance to be rated by CSRHub.

 

crowdfunding scores

 

CSRHub measures how a company is perceived to perform on a wide range of corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues.  The average rating for the roughly 9,000 rated companies (across more than 100 countries) stands at around 54.  So, one of the rated companies has an overall score below this average, and one has a score above.  (Ratings range from a low of around 20 to a high of around 70, but have a strong “central tendency.”)  (There are more details about the CSRHub ratings system on our web site.)

 

CSRHub has gathered data on more than 100,000 companies that it does not yet rate.  CSRHub follows a well-defined set of rules that determine when we can rate any part of a company’s performance and also when we can offer an overall rating.  Most of these unrated companies are smaller private enterprises—similar to those that Crowdnetic tracks.  We found 17 instances where CSRHub had partial data on a crowdfunded company.

 

crowdfunded companies

 

Most of CSRHub’s smaller company information is coming from data gathered via several types of expert sources (supply chain tracking, government regulators and non-governmental organizations) and crowd sources (consumer ratings, employee ratings and sentiment tracking systems).  We have data on crowdfunded companies from a number of sources in each of these categories.

 

 

Both the number and size of crowdfunded companies are growing.  At the same time, the number of companies with publicly-available social performance data and information is also growing.  CSRHub’s efforts to collect information on smaller companies should soon allow us to rate 90,000 or even 900,000 companies instead of 9,000.  Over the next few years, the overlap between our data sets should grow rapidly.

 

Crowdnetic’s statistics indicate that a small percentage of crowdfunded companies currently offer products or services in areas that are viewed as sustainable, such as organic food, energy-saving devices, social services or community impact programs.  CSRHub statistics do not include enough crowdfunded companies yet to tell if they have measurably better internal social behavior than non-crowdfunded companies.  We continue to believe that a connection is likely and will reexamine this question as soon as we have a broader overlap between the CrowdWatch and CSRHub data sets.

 

 


 

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.

 

About CSRHub:

 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,100+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

CSRHub rates 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance and flags many special issues. We offer subscribers immediate access to millions of detailed data points from our 339 data sources. Our data comes from nine ESG (environment, social, governance) analysts, well-known indexes, publications, “best of” or “worst of” lists, NGOs, crowd sources and government agencies. By aggregating and normalizing the information from these sources with its patent-pending system, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links each rating point back to its source.

 

CSRHub is a B Corporation, an Organizational Stakeholder (OS) with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a silver partner with Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a founding member of The Alliance of Trustworthy Business Experts (ATBE), an advisory board member of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and supports both the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR) and the International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC).

 

 

About Crowdnetic:

 

Crowdnetic is a leading provider of technology and market data solutions to the global crowdfinance marketplace. They operate the industry’s premier centralized hub for real-time market data aggregated from platforms across the globe.

 

Founded in 2011 by experienced financial technology and data industry experts, Crowdnetic is committed to creating a productive and sustainable marketplace for the global crowdfinance industry. Bringing over 15 years of experience in building complex, data-intensive customized solutions, the leadership team has been instrumental in revolutionizing the industry through developing market data and analytics solutions.

 

Crowdnetic owns and operates CrowdneticWire.com, Lendvious.com, CrowdWatch.co and is a co-producer of the premier peer-lending conference, LendIt, the largest and most recognized conference in the P2P and online lending industry.

 

 

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The Swerve in Climate Change Depends on Innovation Too

By Carol Pierson Holding

 

A classmate from business school emailed me last week to set me straight on climateCalifornia salmon change. His argument was “extreme opinions about things that naturally vary are probably wrong” and supported his stance with three arguments:

 

1) Malthus predicted the end of the world’s ability to feed itself in 1798.

 

2) In the 70’s, oil was projected to cost (in constant dollars) $200/bbl, whereas the current price is about $80, or after inflation, less than in 1980.

 

3) California was going to run out of salmon – it’s having abundant seasons.

 

My classmate’s opinions were formed watching severe weather growing up in Florida, working in the oil industry, and, for the last 27 years, as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. He’s smart and thoughtful. He understands risk. How could our opinions on climate change be so opposed?

 

Once again, the battle turns out to be filled with irony. What saved us from each of the predicted disasters was not that the predictions were wrong, but that we changed the set course through innovation, a skill through which my classmate makes his living. Had we stayed on the trajectory we were on without innovation, the alarmists would actually have been correct.

 

Malthus raised the specter of mass starvation but failed to account for the response to his predictions — innovations in machinery and fertilizers — as well as the growth in the workforce. Recent scholars such as Ester Boserup augmented Malthus’ theory, adding that whenever the population threatens to exceed the food supply, people find ways to increase the production of food. The predictions were followed by visible evidence of food shortages, which drove innovation and altered Malthus’ trajectory.

 

Oil companies were predicted to run out of oil based on trends evident in the 1950s. Shell Engineer M. King Hubbert introduced the peak oil curve, causing great consternation among fellow geologists and oil companies and eventually the public as well. But technological advances made drilling in secondary sites economical. Since then, public pressure has energized political will to open areas previously not available for oil exploration. US oil production in 2012 was the highest in our history. (Paradoxically, that success energized the renewable energy movement, which could make oil as an energy source obsolete.)

 

My classmate’s third example, salmon in California, experienced this same process. Environmentalists warned of impending doom; experience on the ground amid fishermen supported dire predictions. Salmon stock began dwindling in the 1950s then crashed in 2008. By 2011, only 1% of the salmon remained. Public pressure moved government and resource managers to take steps to restore both water and habitat for Chinook salmon, “innovating” California’s hatchery and conservation programs. The salmon population rebounded.

 

Innovation altered the course of my classmate’s alarmist scenarios, and it’s exciting to see how innovators are beginning to alter the course of climate change as well. Entrepreneur Elon Musk with his Tesla electric car, solar and battery initiatives is one example; successful airline executive Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, is investing in renewable energy projects for his jet fuel and his Caribbean venture.

 

Innovators, businesses, governments and public opinion come together to create adaptations that will shift a trend away from disaster. As described in an excellent New York Times op-ed piece by Robert Jay Lifton, this shift or “swerve” is a “major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly.”  Lifton compares the climate change swerve that’s happening now to the nuclear swerve that shifted us during the Reagan era from a nuclear build-up to the non-proliferation treaty of 1986.

 

In both cases, Lifton says, experience, economics and ethics coalesced. Climate change economics have shifted practices in every industry, perhaps most notably in insurance, agriculture, and the military. Secondly, and for the first time, most Americans are experiencing the kind of extreme weather that my classmate saw in subtropical Florida. Now, the ethics component is gaining widespread public acceptance too. As Lifton says,

 

“People (who) came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren.”

 

The questions my classmate posed are important to address. Just as we need competitors to create industries and innovation, we need “rationalists,” as my classmate believes himself to be, to keep us “alarmists” engaged.

 

Photo courtesy of jcookfisher via Flickr cc.

 


 

Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,100+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,100+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 339 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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