Sustainability (and such)

Archive for the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Category

CSR is dead.

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on December 6, 2012

Admit it:  We’ve been hearing the “CSR” death knoll for awhile now, that bleak march of an outdated effort.  And, according to a bevy of global experts at today’s Global Washington conference, it’s being replaced by PERSONAL Social Responsibility to better recognize our individual and collective interest in human rights and values.

I love this rebranding. (After all, corporations aren’t people, yeah?) We should be thinking of the actual faces attached to supply chains and such. Plus, increased corporate transparency is extinguishing smarmy greenwashing and other token efforts. Simply, the movement has expanded beyond slick reports to actual narratives, ranging from Northern consumers to the poorest of the poor who must survive beyond foreign aid.

Free of the corporate framing, we can more easily get to the nitty-gritty discussions of socially-oriented cultural, social and environmental business impacts.  Today, some of the best CSR insights came from a panel featuring Amir Dossal (Founder and Chairman of the Global Partnerships Forum), Raymond Offenheiser (President of Oxfam America), and my newest hero, Joe Whinney (Founder and CEO, Theo Chocolate).

“Companies aren’t just asking ‘How can we make profits?’,” says Dossal, but also, “How can we do good at the same time?” For Oxfam, it means a philosophical shift to trade show discussions and “quiet dialogues” with companies eager to move forward but not ready to go public with new social practices in “Globalization 2.0.”

Educate your consumers, argues Whinney, and they’ll pay higher prices for higher quality.  (In fact, he goes so far as to suggest USAID budget should be partially used to educate the global north in terms of responsible consumerism to pull future investment.)

For a great example of the new corporate leadership in terms of individual social responsibility, check out Theo’s Eastern Congo Initiative for organic and fair trade chocolate and vanilla.   It’s a daring business model for the private sector; that is, transparency and consumer engagement reigns supreme. And next time you hear about the latest CSR campaigns, smile just a little bit, because you’re already part of the cultural shift toward real change.

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Conferences, meh.

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on October 1, 2012

Today I’m polishing a presentation for the upcoming AASHE conference and I’m wondering why, this time, I’m dreading it.  Do I fervently believe in the mission of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education?  Yes.  Have I benefited from previous AASHE conferences?  Yes, again.  Don’t I want to share my research, which is about food sovereignty and sustainability in American Indian tribes?  Oh, yes.  So why aren’t I looking forward to the upcoming get-together in Los Angeles, exactly?

I’m conferenced-out, especially with national/global meetings, especially about sustainability.  In this era of Google circles and hang-outs, plus the question about whether big conferences are becoming obsolete, why are so many of us still spending thousands of dollars and tromping with huge carbon footprints into far-flung cities like Godzilla tourists, albeit well-meaning?  (Plus, a POSTER SESSION?  Seriously, hundreds of paper posters, at a sustainability conference? Really?)

A few years back I studied how the World Social Forum was creating smaller, regional events so that more people could afford to network and make incremental progress about common issues.  While the Seattle version fell flat and is an excellent case study in organizational communication, the idea still burns bright:  Short of the comfort of face-to-face interactions and the excitement of new venues and reunions, why aren’t we relying more on virtual sharing rather than continuing this practice of photo ops and per diem elitism?

If I’m gonna stick with AASHE, I’ll need something different next time. What if some of our $200-$600 registration fees went toward actual college projects rather than vendor booths with swag?  How about holding several smaller meetings on college campuses rather than “North America’s largest campus sustainability conference” at the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center?  And maybe we academics could suck it up and stay in college dorms off-season rather than at the gorgeous Westin Bonaventure?

Yes, I’m dragging my feet because it seems hypocritical to travel the planet on other people’s dimes in the name of sustainability.  HOWEVER, I must confess that this whining is selective, because I’m also  winging my way to Orlando next month to the upcoming National Communication Association conference.  Yes, I’ll pay my own way to learn stuff I either already know or can easily access, given the convention’s archive.  But I pinky-swear to do a knowledge transfer when I get back, okay, just as soon as I take off my mouse ears.

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Stand for Girls 2012

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on September 7, 2012

I love Global Washington for framing Washington as a global state; in fact, I’m not aware of an equally successful portal that convenes all the players — from the Gates Foundation to our little nonprofit, Global Spark — in one state’s global development sector.  Their newest initiative, Stand for Girls 2012, is a terrific example of an effective campaign that isn’t glitzy and demanding high energy/donations, yet builds a new audience.  Simply, $12 donations go to 10 recipient organizations that focus on economic empowerment, health, and education for women and girls.  There are also information-sharing strategies, such as a Seattle event on September 22, as well as  tips to network within our own communities on October 11, the Day of the Girl.  Click here for more information and FREE unique toolkits to use with house parties, religious groups, and education.

Why this important:  With traditional platforms and social media leverage, Stand for Girls is gathering steam as a best practices model of cause-related marketing and communication.  And the reasons are clear:

  • 800 women a day die in pregnancy or childbirth from complications that are often preventable
  • Women constitute about 70 percent of the world’s ultra poor, and women still earn less than 75 cents for every dollar men earn
  • Almost three-quarters of the 72 million children not enrolled in primary school are girls

Global Washington describes this as a way to help “women rewrite their story and change the world.”  Personally, I think this is one of the best values-led marketing efforts currently playing out.  Does it inspire you to donate $12 or think more about global women’s issues?

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Launch of our new nonprofit: GLOBAL SPARK!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on August 6, 2012

New Nonprofit to Aid in Issues of Equity, Education, and Environment

(August 6, 2012)   Global Spark, a new nonprofit organization with three founders in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, is now working with higher education and other charitable groups.  And, as the first step of its soft launch, the organization’s website is now live:

“After teaching and researching together as academics, we’ve formed Global Spark to help other groups that need hard and soft skills,” said Deniz Zeynep Leuenberger, Ph.D. and public administration faculty member at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. “And, with this launch, we’re also looking for other practitioners, scholars, and community members to help us offer a strong menu of services.”

Leuenberger is joined by Danielle Newton, M.F.A. and English faculty at Bellevue College, and Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. and Communication Studies faculty at Bridgewater State College.  Coming from three diverse fields, the three leaders have decades of successful non-profit, educational, and corporate experience in:

  • Strategic planning and capacity building
  • Marketing and communications
  • Grantwriting and fundraising
  • Program evaluation, data collection and analysis
  • Community development, outreach, and mentorship

“One of our first goals is to start sharing information, so we’re sending out a call to students and others who might like to be published on our blog,” says Newton.  “Our website offers many ‘spaces’ for people to discuss issues and for plans to move forward.”

Awaiting formal designation of its 501C3 status in early fall 2012, the organization is already working with American Indian tribal colleges as well as educational and charitable organizations in China, the United Arab Emirates, and across the United States of America.  For instance, the group is aiding with food security initiatives in tribal colleges such as the Oneida Nation’s exemplary program.

“We are also a landing space for resources such as fact sheets and links for others,” Van Leuven noted.  “Right now, groups can find how-to tools for grants development, marketing, and organizational planning.”

For more information, contact Global Spark at, via Twitter  (@Global_Spark), and Facebook.

Posted in Corporate Communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, Development, Marketing, Public Administration, Social media, Sustainability | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Food and independence at the tribal level

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on July 15, 2012

(Part of the continuing Food 2.0 series)

One of the brightest success stories about American food security comes from the Sovereign Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and I’m honored to be part of that tribe’s upcoming Food Sovereignty Workshop.  I already love how this program combines the best of so many public campaigns, such as buying locally, supporting small businesses, and increasing sustainability efforts while connecting with the land.

Simply, the Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems works to integrate “local food and resources, improve the community’s quality of food, educate the people of diet-related health risks, increase employment and youth opportunities, and assist in bringing all people closer together”.  This replicable model centers on recovering food systems that don’t destroy social and natural communities with specifics such as:  visioning and planning programs; importance of cultural considerations; “how-to” operate canneries and raise poultry and (Black Angus) cattle; plus garden and greenhouse production.  In addition to this nuts-and-bolts approach, the Oneida tribe considers food an important part of a community that regularly celebrates, harvests, and gives thanks.

Want second helpings?  You can find more info via social media that dovetails with your personal interests.  For instance, the #SahelCrisis Twitter group spotlights an ongoing African drought and famine for millions who live on what they can grow.  Within the gender lens, there are increasing links between women’s economic opportunity and access to safe, affordable food. And technology is an important tool to assess a situation before interceding:  at a global level, food security is often analyzed using VAM (Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping) methods that include GIS, satellite imagery, and Personal Digital Assistants. And, of course, you can always tie sustainability and food security to other social justice issues of poverty, economics, trade, inequality, public policy, and immigration.

While my research has focused on food security within American Indian tribal colleges, such actions are part of the larger findings about culture and sustainability.  The 2008 economic and financial crisis caused an eruption of hunger within this country that continues to escalate for nearly 49 million people, which is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population and more than 1 in five children. It’s a part of our community that needs more research, corporate involvement, and volunteers.  To that end, I’ll post more in early August after the workshop and please let me know if you’d like to join!

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Water, transparently

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on March 30, 2012

It’s been quite a news month for water activists, given the celebratory news that 89% of the world’s population had access to safe water sources at the end of 2010.  THIS IS HUGE – that over 2 billion people have improved water supplies since 1990 –and, according to the United Nations and WHO, this also means that the  Millennium Development target on water had been reached ahead of schedule.

WAIT…Not so fast.  Some activists declare that these numbers are as flimsy as bubbles, implying that the simple installation of pipes automatically ensures the flow of clean water. “I worry that a report like this makes us feel the problem is on the way to being solved when, in fact, it is the exact opposite,” said Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, and former senior U.N. advisor on water.

It’s a story worth watching, especially as people nervously watch so many MDG’s not met by the target year of 2015.   It makes me nervous, because any spin that’s put on such critical world issues might cause potential activists/funders/key leaders to think it’s resolved.   Another weird fact:  Where’s the U.S. media interest in such stories?

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Komen, Twitter, and Public Awakenings

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on February 3, 2012

Never underestimate the power of the public.  Because of a phenomenal public outcry, the broken Susan G. Komen brand is flunking basic crisis communication and alienating global audiences.  One thing we know:  Even the most popular do-gooders can’t quiet our quick messages that shine light into buried messes.  Yes, necessity is still the mother of invention, and we (as media producers AND consumers,) will scorn those who scorn us; for instance, Twitter’s new policy of censorship may kick it to the curb very soon.

I want to share a few points gleaned from “Arab Tech Emerging:  Enabling the Next Generation of Innovators”, a lecture sponsored last night by MercyCorps to spotlight the Arab Developer Network Initiative in Gaza and the West Bank.   Technology is especially brilliant in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, which is reforming IT sectors powered by citizen creativity. For example, while most reports measure a 13% Internet connectivity rate in Gaza, it’s probably closer to 60% because so many people cobble together connections.  Staying connected is a community effort including  power outages; if we lift up floorboards, we may see car batteries that are strung together and hidden as backup home generators.

Such scenarios of citizen journalism are critical to human rights and information sharing.  According to those on the ground, more citizens trust the news from Twitter and Facebook than CNN reports. And these young, unemployed, and well-educated Palestinians are revitalizing economic and communication opportunities. It will be fascinating to watch the fruits of their labors unfold over the next few years.

It’s also inspiring to learn how NGOs such as MercyCorps and others are not colonizing these countries, but simply assisting with the tools for their voices to be heard and hidden when necessary; for instance, the Guardian Project protects the location and other identifying factors of Android users.

It’s a brave, new, PUBLIC world.

Click here to read about the first Gaza Startup Weekend  that brought a group of Google and other experts to incubate tech efforts.  And imagine how such new organizations are preparing to replace the Komen, Twitter, and other powers that forget, at times, that we don’t ignore controversy anymore.

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“The Sea Around Us”

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 28, 2010

 “Revisiting Rachel Carlson’s ‘The Sea Around Us’ ” – op-ed commentary in South Coast by Dr. Laurie Robertson-Lorant, a Melville biographer and poet and English Department adjunct, Bridgewater State College (Saturday, June 26, 2010):

      June 2010 is an especially poignant time to be teaching Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us” (1951) to teachers.

      The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a wake-up call to end our deadly addiction to fossil fuels and a tragic reminder of how little we have learned about the ocean since Carson’s masterpiece appeared more than half a century ago. A masterful writer, marine biologist Carson combines informed observation, solid scientific knowledge and mindful contemplation of the geology, history and biodiversity of our ocean.

      Sadly, too many people take the ocean for granted or don’t think about it at all, and many people don’t know the basic facts. Recklessly and with deplorable irreverence, we’ve used oceans, rivers, streams and ponds as dumping grounds for everything from sewage to nuclear waste and other toxic substances. In response, a number of federal agencies have composed Ocean Literacy Standards—in plain English, basic facts designed to encourage people to treat the ocean responsibly.

      The ocean comprises three-quarters of the blue planet called “Earth” and is one ocean, not many. Subject to the action of many different currents and the force of the winds, the ocean washes the shores of every continent and island, and the sea floor is both a vast cemetery of previous generations and the source of future biodiversity.

     The ocean shapes the topography of our earth; yet, we know less about the bottom of the sea than we know about the surfaces of most planets in our solar system. Do we know, for instance, what the long-term impact of drilling for oil in the seabed will be on the height of the seacoast? Will drilling cause sinkage of the sea floor and greater-than-predicted sea level rise?

     The ocean produces 70-80 percent of the oxygen we breathe, so how can using toxic chemical dispersants and burning millions of gallons of oil, as BP is doing right now on the surface of the Gulf, be healthy for humans and other living organisms?

       The ocean produces, regulates and stabilizes our global climate. “Without our ocean,” writes Carson, “our world would be visited by unthinkably harsh extremes of temperature.” “The Sea Around Us” often sounds as though it was written yesterday, even though many discoveries have been made since 1951, as Carson anticipated.

       Even then, the planet was warming and sea levels were rising, but most scientists assumed these small changes were cyclical, not man-made. More recently, however, scientists agree that the sharp increase of measurable carbon in the atmosphere and the rapidly accelerating rate of ocean warming are attributable to the industrial world’s “heat, beat and treat” technologies.

      Human beings and the ocean are inextricably linked. As Carson puts it, “as life itself began in the sea, so each of us begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his mother’s womb, and in the stages of his embryonic development repeats the steps by which his race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of a water world to creatures able to live on land.” The chemistry of our blood replicates the chemistry of sea water because our biological ancestors came from the sea to live on land.

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Junk e-mail into healthy school lunches?

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 26, 2010

(From Mashable) Restaurant chain Chipotle has launched the new “No Junk” campaign.  It encourages people to forward their spam to; for every 100,000 messages received, Chipotle plans to donate $10,000 to The Lunch Box, a non-profit organization that provides resources to schools to help them make their food programs healthier. 

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Tiger, Toyota, and relevance

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on February 27, 2010

A student recently asked why our class was spending so much time on these particular case studies; after all, do I really think THEY would encounter such crises?

Well, yes.  We may not face the woes (or have the deep pockets) of billion-dollar industries, but we’re one misstep away from having to tell our story, possibly apologize, and plan for a better future.  If we walk in this world, we are constantly deciding about issues of transparency and accountability, don’t you think?  So…why NOT plan for our credibility and reputation?

Three recent  tweets and posts include:  This from a New York corporate crisis and PR commentator in the Huffington Post <—my favorite.  “With bad news, the best move is to own up and apologize, the sooner the better,” says this business blogger.  “Think: would you rather be post-Watergate Nixon or post-sex scandal David Letterman? Only one of them was forthright, self-deprecating, honest and contrite about it.”

Whether Tiger restores his brand or becomes Barry Bonds has yet to be seen.  But his road to recovery — whether it’s on Oprah’s chair or out on a boat with buddies — is food for thought.  Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry” as soon as you realize your blunder goes a long way.  And that’s why we study such current cases,  to find a common language and also possibly help us determine our own path.

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