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Remember libraries? (And Keeping Wikipedia Ad Free!)

You know those hushed and quiet rooms lined with bookshelf after bookshelf after bookshelf, each packed tight with adventure, knowledge, inspiration and excitement.

My mother used to take us to the Maple Ridge library in British Columbia, Canada when we were young. I remember holding her hand as we entered the hallowed hall, feeling that sacred feeling, smelling the earthy aroma of hundreds of waiting volumes, the adrenaline of possibility, of an endless journey anywhere I wanted to go or places I would never have dared dream of alone.

And it was up to me,  myself alone to decide where to go. The librarian would always help me but she would never direct or tell me what to read, no never. Neither were there clues to guide me save the alphabet and my curiosity. No logos, no tag lines, no signs, no billboards, no flashing lights, no announcements…just me and my young mind.

Alas, the internet has radically altered the way we seek knowledge and entertainment. It is great in so many ways, but as with everything, there are dangers. Social media, in particular, has decoupled and confused knowledge with commercial and personal content often thinly veiled – sometimes ridiculously so — advertising and promotion. Spawning native advertising is ever more prolific and never transparent enough. Truth in advertising is stretched, omissions commonplace and the full and honest truth an increasingly rare currency indeed.

That is why it is critical the internet’s library, Wikipedia, remains free of advertising. Wikipedia is as sacred a vault of knowledge as any library, unbothered and undistracted by the suasion of advertising.

Wikipedia is a not for profit organization as befits the world’s font of knowledge. If you haven’t donated to their current campaign, get out your wallet, your purse, collect pennies on the street corner, tell your neighbors, and donate now!

Histrionic? Perhaps, but the fate of intellectual freedom and a sustainable world may just be in the balance and that’s not nothing.


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Bhopal. Dec 3, 1984. Companies can do more….

Aljazeera’s The Stream asks us today: can justice be given to the Bhopal survivors some 30 year later?

This question is not just a test of our willingness and ability to hold companies accountable, but it is yet another test of our basic humanity.  It should also test our faith in a capitalist system whose incredible power we can decide to use — or not — to satisfy our real needs, meet the greatness of our values, and work for the betterment of all and not just a few.

Can justice balm the incalculably personal losses of people who were already subject to such terrible and oppressive forces? Can justice ever heal their punctured hearts? Perhaps not, but we must offer without hesitation recourse, heartfelt support, and compensation for lives so ruinously and carelessly destroyed.

Justice in the larger sense will certainly never be served if we continue to allow systemic industrial failures of smaller and greater magnitude to occur. These are not accidents, they are sins of omission, of commission, of greed, of incompetence and the advancement of society – some would say our very survival as a species –  demands more of companies, governments, and indeed of ourselves to see and tell the truth. (see also Blameless in Bangladesh).

I barely remember the day, but we should never ever forget the consequences and the lesson we seemed to have failed to learn which seems to me the very least we can do.

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More Consumption & Less Poverty is key to Sustainable Economy….

While we must focus on zero environmental everything and radically reducing consumption in developed countries – production waste, water, carbon-based energy etc. simultaneously we must work to eradicate the scourge of poverty in developing countries which means, ironically, a lot more not less consumption.UN We have

Poverty is morally repugnant and unacceptable. It is also one of the greatest sustainability challenges of this century. People working to just get by rarely have the time, energy or income to spare for solving pressing community and environmental issues cursing their efforts to live life to its fullest potential.

Imagine releasing the power of millions of Rigoberta Menchu Tums and Neslon Mandelas from the grips of poverty. The benefit, as my friend Jessie Fripp recently noted in a Sustainable Century podcast, is “exponential self-actualization.”

Folks, rich and poor, in developing countries have spoken. 13 of their top 16 development priorities voiced by 1.4M developing country residents surveyed by the UN are poverty alleviation related. The first environment issue ranked 11th.

This doesn’t mean the environment is not important to developing country folk, it is, but people know resolving poverty is the fastest way to fixing the environment.

What does this mean for your company? Not more philanthropy that is for sure, more sustainability shared value creation, definitively.

see for more information on what folks want!
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Blameless in Bangladesh: Sustainability Strategic Nutshell – Is Your Company Ready?

There are certain reasonably predictable risks facing corporate sustainability performance.

Take the textile factory collapse tragedy in Bangladesh. With demand for fast fashion, cheap prices, and the crazy complex supply chains that result, this horrid eventuality was inevitable, if not there somewhere else — a classic “not if” but “when” situation.

All clothing companies involved in Bangladesh knew about, or should have known about the risks and what happened to those implicated in this avoidable and tragic incident is instructive for any firm.

That is: doing what others do hoping it will be alright gives no competitive advantage. Yes it provides “group-blame” risk coverage, but think about the value of being blameless in Bangladesh?

Taking competitive advantage means daring to be different. How? Simple:

  1. Benchmark competitors;
  2. Define your material issues (see Hemingway on Sustainability Reporting (were he alive): Don’t be Hollow, Be Material );
  3. Find out what you have to work with and where your culture, brand and sunk investments can actually take you;
  4. Find stakeholders whose social and economic agenda you just can’t live without;
  5. Join them in doing something your competitors can’t easily do; most of all:
  6. Don’t wait, act.

Is your company ready?


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Airlines Slicing & Dicing Their No.1 Stakeholders

 Yesterday I read that at Southwest Airlines your #BagsFlyFree and I began to think about how poorly the airlines treat non-biz class passengers – possibly their number one stakeholder.

Despite what they say in those pre-flight videos, airlines only seem to care about segmenting clients in groups in order to figure out what is the bare minimum service each will suffer.

This doesn’t bother me, not at all: if someone can only afford bare bones, then the service fits.

It’s the fact airlines pretend to care about our comfort as if repeating “we care” over and over will ever convince us we are comfortable with our knees in our chest, a chair back in our face, and no hope of getting that important work done guilty feeling we get after being herded on board behind everyone else with some special card and enough hand bags to fill every last square inch of overhead luggage space….. (for the record I have a few of those cards)

No, what gets me is the unnecessary dehumanization of the experience. Of course its not just the airlines doing it to us.  No, we kind of do it to ourselves as much as we let the airlines do it to us, because let’s admit it: we all want to fly at ridiculously low prices.

My guess is that the airline which can re-humanize the experience of flying while still offering low prices will get golden stakeholder value creation.

Until they can do that, though, maybe I’ll just check myself in as a bag at Southwest.

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The Bold take the Field

Many, nay most companies say they are willing to engage in some form of sustainable business practice.

Some do, but many more only seem eager to do so. In the end, however, most are happier to wait for change to happen to them and their competitors through voluntary programs or via regulatory compliance.

Willingness to collaborate, fear of change, insisting on a level playing field — call it what you will, waiting for the pack to move, voluntarily or by compulsion, that’s just a shameful loss of competitive advantage.

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Sustainability Strategy Transversal (Hard) & Transformative (Harder)

Strategic advantage is taken by those who can make decisions today that maximize current and future corporate value and returns in ways competitors cannot easily copy.

Sustainability strategies are no different and are not just something “good” a company ought to do. In a world spiraling towards grave resource scarcity, un-absorbable shocks to critical ecologies, and resulting social conflict, sustainability represents a key source of profit and value enhancing competitive advantage now and in the future.

Great sustainability strategies are demanding in many ways familiar and not so familiar to conventional business strategy.

They are traversal in nature reaching across functional lines, divisions, products, geographies etc. and must meet multivariate needs and interests. They require good what’s-in and what’s-out analysis, committed budgets and champions at all levels of the company.

This is fairly routine for good strategy even if rarely well pursued, or seen for sustainability.

More uncomfortably, sustainability strategies are transformative in nature. The very best of them ask a company to do foreign, complex things, often with the support of non-business-minded stakeholders aka creating shared value.

Two exemplar sustainability strategies: getting millions of kids to wash their hands after using the loo and empowering women to feel and be strong simply by lacing up some sneakers.

Not the wheel-house stuff of the average corporate executive.

That’s the transformative part and the “Question to Ask” is: what do we need to change?

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Meaningful connections in a time of Convergence

The Cloud and Values Mining are leading us towards a convergence where values – or what matters most to us and market signals are becoming one.

It is inevitable.  Put enough data storage and manipulation capacity together with many, many minds working both in concert and in every direction all at once, with the singular objective of trying to figure out what consumer want… well, enough said!

More importantly, and yet to come, marketers will soon have the data to power way past points of superficial affinity and attraction, way past and into the uncharted infinity of what is truly important to consumers. This is where universal sustainability values lie, somewhat dormant, somewhat dusty, but yes, they are there, and increasingly restless to be heard.

What’s the difference?  From this: “Mmm this soap smells like a forest.”  To this: “Mmmmmmm oh wow, this soap smells like the forest I am helping to protect.”

That’s a connection.


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Unlearning Leadership, Learning Followership and Why Your Company Wants to be a Sustainability Brand

 Despite all the advances in branding, it remains a mostly 20th century craft, relying on the massive repetition of the “push”.

Some brands are a bit more advanced and try to pull us towards them. Even then, very few have any meaningful connections with consumers.

21st century branding is about ATTRACTING people. It’s about understanding WHY consumers want what they want, and not just WHAT they want. Color, size, functionality, all good but part of the superficial, ever-fickle WHAT.

21st century brands connect with the underlying values driving economic decisions, deeper constants of the desire for wholesome food, safe and vibrant communities, meaningful and dignified work, supporting others in need etc. Scratch the surface of any consumer and you find these values are dearer than all others.

Manifestly and transparently sharing these universal sustainability values with clients makes for unbelievably enduring relationships.

Not coincidentally stakeholders will expect constantly improved sustainability performance, which is very cool because that supports a virtuous cycle of ever more aggressive sustainability risk taking.

The biggest and first challenge for companies, however, is to unlearn Leadership and to learn Followership.

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Values makes us Strong

During WWII my wife’s family lived in Hong Kong, along with hundreds of families from Goa, a long time Portuguese colony on the west coast of India.  During the war, these families were moved from Hong Kong by the Portuguese government to nearby Macau, another Portuguese colony, to avoid the Japanese invasion.

With them they took several thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry, a standard practice for protecting wealth back then, particularly in trying times. A few pieces were ultimately sold to buy food and other necessities, but some of those same jewels, passed on to my wife, are now safely tucked away in a bank deposit box in Canada. They have been there for decades.

I used to joke saying I could sell them on the street corner for thousands of dollars, but really they have no market value because our family could never sell them. They are no longer jewels, they are the sweat of Grandpa Sebastian, the determination of Grandma Effie, the youth of my Mother-in-Law Rita and my Father-in-Law Álvaro.

These jewels are now part of my daughter Zoe who, in time, will inherit them from her Mother Tonia – precious memories of how her family protected and loved one another, not just during World War II but every day and always.

It is her Father’s hope that one day we will see values like this and more… of sharing, peace, strength of character, of protecting vibrant ecologies….. and all the beauty a sustainable world can offer in everything we buy and cherish.

Remember the sacrifices of the many….

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