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Oil Leaks in Your Bathroom and Why Trusting Oil and Gas Companies can be so hard

Note – This article is cross posted on The Sustainable Century blog….…. CSR Counts will be closing in two months in favor of The Sustainable Century.

Gulf Oil Corporation recently had an advert behind the home plate of a Boston Red Socks game which read something like: because you trusted Gulf Oil at the Pump… You can trust Gulf (Electricity) in your home.

It takes some steel to claim trustworthiness if you are a fossil fuel company (FCC) these days.  And in our homes at that?

Don’t know about you, but images of a Plains All American Pipelines bursting in my bathroom or a BP Deepwater Horizon erupting in my kitchen sink kind of leap to mind.

I have nothing against Gulf. I don’t particularly like fossil fuels, but they are not going away tomorrow, so we ought to judge FFCs by their transparency and plans to transition to environmentally sane energy, and not just our visceral sentiments about them.

Still, a not so clean and stellar impression of FFCs precedes them.

Indeed, when asked by a 2013 Harris poll “which industries are generally honest and trustworthy so that you normally believe a statement by a company in that industry,” just 4% of consumers found oil and gas companies to be trustworthy, beating out only tobacco companies… and even then by a mere 1%.

Here is just a short list of things that hardly inspire trust:

Fossil fuel companies will remain important for years to come, some will survive the transition to clean energy and other wont.

Trust will play a big role in the coming transformation and that trust will have to be earned through transparency and intention. Simply asserting trustworthiness, well, that is a start, but some serious effort will be required to gain consumer confidence along the way.

Photo credit: telegraph uk.

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Corporate Sustainability Strategy & Whose to blame when things go Wrong

In this inaugural episode of The Sustainable Century Podcast Series, David Chandler of the University of Colorado discusses corporate sustainability strategy with your host Marc de Sousa Shields, where they explore themes of corporate stakeholder influence, responsible consumerism, and whose fault is it when companies do really bad things.

With a PhD and MS in Management, David knows his stuff! He is co-author of Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Stakeholders, Globalization, and Sustainable Value Creation. For more about David:

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Scared Sustainable Yet? 19 Not-So-Rare Earth Minerals Running Out

We all know water is becoming scarce.

The developing world poor have known this all too well for centuries.

Herculean water conservation efforts by a few companies, cities and even some states show there is hope. But unless radically scalable solutions are found fast, California’s current drought is going to feel like a short, dry cough compared to what’s going to happen in the growing number of water-stressed communities around the world (e.g., Australia!).

Water is something we absolutely need to live, so we are pretty aware of its looming shortage.

What few realize, however, is that many other “life-necessary” resources are also coming close to running out.

Rare earth minerals have a noted “Scarcity Brand”, Read more

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Corruption in Mexico, Carlos Slim, the Mordita and I Just Wont Pay….

On our way by car from Cuernavaca to Canada we were pulled over, bags piled high to the ceiling, by the Mexico City police. We had entered Mexico City on the first day a new environmental initiative banning out of state cars on Saturdays.

Notice of the ban had been in the news. It was a big thing, but living a state away and not watching much television, we missed it.

So there we were, on the start of a 5,000 kilometer journey, only to be stopped by a couple of cops with a license for graft. This time, of course, they were legit and the fault was ours. They were right about the infraction but didn’t want to write me up, they wanted a bribe to let us go.

I exasperated them with all my arguments until I finally blurted “It’s the first day, we missed the notice. In any civilized country you’d be giving me a warning and nodding us on our way.”

I know. I actually said that. Worse, Read more

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40 Forest Facts…. Plant a Tree

If every American family planted just one tree, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced by one billion pounds annually.

This is almost 5% of the amount that human activity pumps into the atmosphere each year…

There is so much good coming from the forests, its time we protect them for that animals and ourselves! Here are 40 facts why….

Forest 1





Read more

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El Popo Knows….

 The other day I read about the debate whether or not we had entered the Anthropocene epoch, or, that moment in geological time everything became about us, homo sapiens.

It was an article in the The Toronto Star and it made me think: hey! we weren’t the center of attention for much of Mother Earth’s time here on, well…. herself…..

But I digress.

First things first. It seems the Anthropocene isn’t even an official epoch yet, Read more

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Sustainability Leadership and a $70k Minimum Wage

Dan Price. Remember the name.

Dan is the CEO of Gravity Payments who recently decided every one of his 120 employees should get paid $70k a year.

Is a $70k minimum wage a dream?

Perhaps, but one that raises two intriguing questions: is such a minimum wage possible and, more than this, is it desirable?


In the broadest of strokes, the answer is yes… for the USA at any rate.

Taking the 2013 US GDP of $17 trillion, subtracting 12% for corporate profits and $500 billion for taxes there is enough money to pay each of the 120 million full-time workers in the USA $70,000 and $35,000 to each of its 30 million part-time workers, and still have $113 billion in the pot!

If it works at the macro level, how about the micro?

Let’s take Walmart for example (of course!). Stephen Gandel of Fortune recently estimated Read more

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Smart Phones, Poverty and a Sustainable Future

Smart phone makers and broadband suppliers are going to love this article. All other companies, well, this article is about leveling the playing field for more and better sustainability. Please read on.

Every household on this planet should have a premium smartphone.

Every household on this planet should have free access to broadband Internet.

Each and every company on this planet should, by law, be required to have a third-party verified GRI report and mandatory sustainability labels.

(I also believe ardently in the power of brand, so much so that I believe all advertising should be banned. More on this at a future date.)

Why? The free market economy needs both freedom of speech and access to credible sustainability information if it is to overcome structurally inherent sustainability challenges. Read more

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Civic Spirit, Stuart Gulliver and HSBC

This morning international news was all a flutter about Stuart Gulliver, chief executive of HSBC, who sheltered millions of pounds in a Swiss bank account, the funds to which came ostensibly via a registered company in Panama.

That a corporate executive of his stature has a Swiss account is on its own of little account. That he has money slushing about between different banks in different countries is also not uncommon. It would indeed be more surprising if he hadn’t such accounts – except for the fact HSBC has been the center of a “we provide our clients “dodgy” tax shelters and sometimes money-laundering” services controversy for some time now.

“Income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf.” — Will Rogers, humorist

Has Gulliver been purposely avoiding taxes? Of course he has. No bank executive these days doesn’t. But there are lines of acceptable in tax avoidance — from the murky grey just-bad-form but still-okay, to the you’ve-stepped-over-into-dark shadows often illegal ones.

Did Gulliver stray into the shadows? Legally, probably not. Did he cross from good to poor citizenship? Undoubtedly.

Paying taxes is after all a measure of good citizenship. Good citizens pay them where some might say bad citizens set up foreign companies to funnel income through to unidentifiable Swiss bank accounts, and/or all sorts of other financial gyrations to avoid them.

“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice

I am not saying Mr. Gulliver is a bad citizen. Not at all. But many find it ludicrous why already very well off people typically work so hard to avoid paying taxes. If you are rich you get this; if you’re not, the of culture wealth is often just too far beyond us to understand.

But if you care about sustainability and/or you have lived or worked in a country where tax avoidance is common, you will notice life is hard for many, many more than it is easy.  That is to say, good tax systems seem to correlate with decent general welfare.

Most studies on tax avoidance and the common good, unfortunately, are ambiguous at best. Yet one can’t help but eyeball a tax-human welfare correlation in Norway, Sweden, Canada and the like, where more people are doing o.k. than naught and tax avoidance gymnastic are generally frowned upon.

Sidebar to think about – Is it outlandish to hypothesize an association between growing tax avoidance, concentration of wealth, and deteriorating national infrastructure even in well-off countries?

We can’t blame Gulliver for the practice of tax avoidance, income disparity, or the state of our bridges, roads, educational systems etc. But we can question his civic spirit as business leader. Given recent revelations/allegations of HSBC’s conduct we might also want to question his bank’s commitment to anything on the sustainability front as well.

“Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.” — Plato

Gulliver? He didn’t do anything outrageous or uncommon for someone in his position. Mucky yes, illegal no. Even so, if enough people – particularly influential people –condone tax avoidance through words or action, well, bad things are going to happen to civilization, that much is clear.

Let’s not kid ourselves, Mr. Gulliver is a poor example on many fronts. He let his employees, clients (including me), company and country down.

Perhaps HSBC should show a little civic spirit of their own (not to mention protect their brand) and let him go, free to wander over the lines of his own choosing without them.

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Corporate Conservative Sustainability, Foxenomics, H&M, & Vested Interest Malarkey

I was a more than a bit shocked last week when H&M’s CEO warned of a social and economic catastrophe if we stopped buying the 20% of things we buy but don’t need.

In my politely Canadians way I said in a post that this was a having-the-cake and wanting to-eat-it too variety of argument.

Unfortunately there is both truth and misconception in the catastrophic perspective.

It is true that immediate reduction of unnecessary consumption would lead to loads of “dislocation.” Not the least of which in developing countries, a subject I will treat in a later post.

It is misconceived however because capitalism is a net sum game. Humans will always produce about the same amount of wealth within the bounds of our more or less free capitalist system.

What we choose to produce and consume, what we choose to value… well that is a whole different matter. And right now we have a highly wasteful, material economy, we value things. What we need is a less stuff, more experience based Dont buyeconomy. That’s a cultural change not economic one, and a change certainly not lead by the hoped for technical fix we are implicitly relying on.

We’ve known this for years. This is not news.

Sadly in this statement we also hear strains of our friendly Foxonomic Ecopundits whose fear-first message tells us “fixing” the climate will have devastating economic costs.

This is nonsense on two counts. First, because just as we value diamonds jewelry (whose functional value outside making someone happy is almost nil), we will soon start valuing a stable climate. Paying for a sustainable global habitat, I dare say, will not be seen through the lens of cost but of value.

Second, we all know most Foxonomics for what it is: vested interest malarkey.

What both Fox and the CEO of H&M (albeit wrapped in softer language and genuine sustainability efforts of H&M) warn us of is that vested interests are at risk. To get this point we need only look at the explosive growth of alternative energy and how it will soon tear the established energy order asunder (especially coal/centralized utilities)

For any one company or vested interest to cry “Catastrophe Ho” in support of continued materialism is like saying the flotilla is sinking but save my boat ‘cause it has fewer leaks.

Besides consider the catastrophe if we don’t move from an economy of stuff to one of experience.

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