"Sustainability is no longer about compromise." So who and what are, and should be, leading the way?
New York has been in the CSR spotlight for the past few weeks, hosting various conferences and meetings around global issues, social change and corporate citizenship. From the Mashable/UN Social Good Summit to the Clinton Global Initiative, to Climate Week NYC, and of course, the UN General Assembly meeting (the bane of an East Side-dwelling New Yorker’s commute!), there have been a lot of amazing talks by well-respected and globally-recognized individuals. I look forward to these meetings each year because they attract so many notable and inspirational speakers talking about really big issues being tackled in creative ways. It’s a great reminder of all the positive changes that are taking place every day.
I was able to catch some of the UN Social Good Summit sessions online, and I wanted to share some my thoughts and takeaways with you.
Social Change Drives Innovation
IKEA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard spoke about the new innovations IKEA is pursuing around sustainability from supply chain and materials to manufacturing and renewable energy. But I thought his main message was most important: By making sustainability an important corporate goal, Mr. Howard and his team drove the company to be more innovative. The connection between sustainability and innovation is something that has long been debated in the business community, and it’s something I blogged about last year. I’m happy to see that this idea is becoming more widely accepted. Further, Mr. Howard added that “sustainability is no longer about compromise.” I found this idea interesting, especially when thinking back to dim energy efficient light bulbs and scratchy toilet paper. But innovative, sustainable (and really cool) products are now on par with their peers these days. Just look at PUMA’s InCycle shoe and apparel collection – some items are even fully compostable! – or Bambooee’s reusable paper towels made from bamboo. And, who can overlook the game-changing Tesla cars? I’ll take the new Model S in black!
Mobile Is Key to Making Real Change in the World
Today, there are 3.3 billion people in the world who have access to cell phones. And by 2014, 95 percent of world’s population will be equipped with mobile phones. The numbers are even more outstanding in developing countries, where the mobile penetration rate is 89 percent. In Africa specifically, only 140 million (about 14 percent) have access to the Internet, yet over 600 million use a mobile phone, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institute. There is great opportunity here to harness this technology and leverage its wide reach to create positive change. One prime example was explained by Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More. Mr. Edlund talked about how SMS messages have helped donate nets, prevent stockouts, track counterfeit drugs and now are being used to raise money for malaria research. With a 33 percent decline in malaria cases in the last seven years, malaria is now being touted as the “first disease to be beaten by mobile.” That’s pretty impressive. Across discussion panels, mobile was widely noted as a key tool in other major global initiatives such as ending violence against women and children, youth empowerment and climate change.
…And So Are Young People
As Ian Somerhalder put it during The Future of News panel, “Millennials don't just want to read the news anymore. They want to know what they can do about it.” Millennials have proven to be an active, albeit demanding, demographic that will engage when they believe in something and demand change when they do not. Sodexo’s 2013 Workplace Trends Report showed that 86 percent of millennials entering the workforce would consider leaving an employer whose values fell short of their expectations. And approximately 93 percent of millennials donated to non-profit organizations in 2010 (“Best Practices in Workplace Giving” Global Impact: 2011). Millennials are among the most community-driven and connected generation to date – quite the opposite of the lazy, entitled reputation they are often given. We need to look at the very fact that millennials are already playing a huge role in shaping CSR and how it’s reaching the broader population. For example, I think the huge uptake in mobile phone usage for CSR campaigns is largely due to millennials. And let’s not forget Facebook. Millennials invented it, shaped it and found new uses for it, so it’s only natural that they engage in CSR via Facebook. Facebook has been the platform for some creative CSR campaigns such as Cisco’s How Do You Give campaign, and one of the first major crowdsourced social media contests, Target's Bullseye Gives program, which let Target’s Facebook community decide how the company will distribute $3 million among their favorite not-for-profit organizations.
We Are More Powerful Than We Think
ONE CEO Michael Elliott also praised the millennial generation at the Summit, saying that they’re not dreamy or “hippie-ish,” but practical and results-driven. One thing the younger generation always has going for them is that they believe in the future, in change and in new possibilities. I think harnessing this optimism will help us power forward to find better solutions to global issues. Take, for example Jack Andraka, who developed a test for pancreatic cancer at age 15. He received a roaring round of applause at the most recent Clinton Global Initiative while encouraging free, open-source scientific research. Ideas can come from people anywhere in the world, not just Western societies. Mr. Elliott reminded us that global issues are solved through collaboration, oftentimes over boarders. Solutions, he said, shouldn’t just come from the “Global North.” The whole world, especially Africans, should come up with solutions to these issues. Africa is the second-fastest growing region in the world, according to a Brookings Institute study. And since the early 1980s, Africa’s middle class has tripled in size, now claiming one-third of the continent’s population. This means there is not only a lot of potential in Africa, but for the African people. Organizations like the African Leadership Academy (ALA) are making this happen. The ALA identifies promising young African men and women to build a strong, connected generation of leaders who will transform the continent. They have launched 38 non-profit and for-profit enterprises since inception, and student projects – some of which have been recognized by the World Economic Forum – have focused on initiatives that foster peace, patriotism and entrepreneurship.
While we still have a lot of work to do, we should be proud of how far we’ve come and how much we’ve achieved along the way. The fact that so many people, and so many organizations, are working together collaboratively and innovatively is already a success. As CSR professionals, I think we can all be inspired by the discussions that have taken place at these events, and we should be encouraged to think creatively and collaboratively as we create the next idea that could change the world.