After reading TIME’s top blog picks, the Waggener Edstrom team created our own list of top Social Innovation blogs. The following websites are all great sources for information and opinions on a wide variety of SI topics, ranging from CSR and sustainability to global health and economic development.
We would love to hear your feedback about other good online resources and thinkers we might be missing!
- 3BL: A social network and information aggregator focused on corporate citizenship and social innovation. http://3blmedia.com/blog. Check out the particularly informative “CSR Minute” daily video while you’re there: http://3blmedia.com/theCSRminute
- Africa Works: Former Wall Street Journal writer and author Gregg Zachary covers African affairs with a focus on what works in the sub-Saharan, and what doesn’t. http://www.africaworksgpz.com/
- Autoblog Green: Sebastian Blanco leads a team of reporters covering today’s transportation industry revolution. Everything from electric vehicles to biofuels is discussed in a consumer friendly context: http://green.autoblog.com/
- Conversations for a Better World: This blog aims to educate people around the world about basic health issues ranging from HIV to clean water: http://www.conversationsforabetterworld.com/
- Cool Hunting: Stylish blog that hits at the heart of modern innovation, looking at the intersection of design, art, technology and culture. http://www.coolhunting.com/
- CSR Reporting: A specialized online resource giving tips on both internal and external CSR communications, this blog analyzes and comments on CSR reports noting both the good and the bad. http://csr-reporting.blogspot.com/
- The Gates Notes: One of the world’s most impactful leaders of business and philanthropy in the shares his personal notes, observations and learnings. http://www.thegatesnotes.com/
- Global Poverty by Change.org: A compassionate look at global problems including food, health and conflicts. http://globalpoverty.change.org/
- Greenbiz.com: Joel Makower leads a team of top-notch writers covering sustainability and green business. http://www.greenbiz.com/
- Grist: One of the most influential and widely-read environmental blogs, Grist also covers SI related topics. http://www.grist.org/
- The IDE blog: Rather than focusing on direct aid, Paul Polak’s organization develops technologies and products to help eliminate poverty. This blog provides an informative look at the organization’s activities and relevant news commentary. http://blog.ideorg.org/
- IDEO News Archive: While not a traditional blog, IDEO’s news archive leverages all the resources of a global design leader, providing an excellent resource for news, events and product updates. http://www.ideo.com/news/archive/2010/01/#pos2047
- Inhabitat: Innovative blog that covers the intersection of technology and design. http://www.inhabitat.com/
- Philanthrocapitalizm: Matthew Bishop’s Values blog looks at the intersection of business and philanthropy. http://www.philanthrocapitalism.net/2010/06/a-social-competitiveness-index/
- Social Innovation Conversations: The Social Innovation Conversations channel is dedicated to social change, from the pandemic of AIDS, to challenges posed by climate change and global poverty. Social Innovation Conversations is co-produced with the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. http://sic.conversationsnetwork.org/
- Stanford Social Innovation Review Opinion Blog: This heavily academic look at social innovation is packed with news updates, interviews and great information. http://www.ssireview.org/opinion/
- Sustainable Life Media Blog: A green business blog from SLM, producer of the industry leading Sustainable Brands conference http://www.sustainablelifemedia.com/blog
- Tactical Philanthropy: Tactical Philanthropy Advisors CEO Sean Stannard-Stockton shares his views on bringing innovation, effectiveness and joy to philanthropy. http://www.tacticalphilanthropy.com/
- Treehugger.com: A well run editorial look at the environment and ethical business that dubs itself “A Discovery Company”, in three steps, 1. Get Informed, 2. Interact, 3. Take Action. http://www.treehugger.com/
- World Changing: Alex Steffen and his international team of journalists cover the world’s most innovative solutions to problems including refugee aid, renewable energy, transportation, communication, and quality of life. Also boasts some of the most engaging podcasts on the web. http://www.worldchanging.com/
This week, I attended the first annual GoGreen Seattle conference—a one day event leading up to Earth Day designed to educate participants and give attendees actionable next steps to make their business more sustainable. My attendance was part of an in-kind sponsorship deal in which the WE Social Innovation Practice provided public relations support leading up to the event to help drive awareness and position the conference as a premier thought leadership forum in Seattle. In addition to the sponsorship opportunity, Waggener Edstrom’s VP of Corporate Strategy and Sustainability, Heidi Reys, was also on hand to speak as part of a panel on carbon footprint analysis.
The most striking takeaway I got from the event was the noticeable difference in sustainability narratives between the older, more established leaders (NIKE and Starbucks), and newer insurgent companies with innovative approaches (KEEN Footware and Grays Harbor Paper).
When I think of the companies with the most public environmental programs, Wal-Mart, NIKE and Starbucks all come to mind. Each of these companies, who are widely seen as leaders in the charge for environmental responsibility, have comprehensive digital and traditional communications campaigns to accompany their cutting edge programs.
On the other hand, “you won’t find the word ‘sustainable’ anywhere on our website,” noted James Curleigh, President and CEO of KEEN Footware, whose brand’s extreme efficiency story was born, not just out of a desire to save the world, but also out of a pressing business need—to cut costs by recycling materials. Similarly, Grays Harbor Paper, one of the Pacific Northwest’s greenest companies began experimenting with on-site clean energy from waste to cut back energy costs, always looking for new ways to increase the plant’s efficiency just make their business resilient enough to keep up in the business world.
The difference? Trust. One reason today’s green revolution is being led by the Wal-Marts, NIKEs and Starbukcs of the world is that they needed a way to change consumer perceptions, to reestablish a trust that had been broken by past missteps, creating an immediate business issue. While companies like the ones mentioned above provide some of the best examples of how to address social responsibility issues in a transparent and public manner, each of them is ultimately working to recover a lost trust—one that the smaller upstarts still have and cherish.
As KEEN and Grays Harbor Paper grow, they’ll be pushed to prove that they’re still worthy, creating a dramatic tension between trust and business that is difficult to navigate. This tension is something that Marianne discussed in her blog post earlier this week where she noted that a new breed of narrative was required to blend these topics—a narrative based on change, experimenting, and resiliency—three ideas that were front and center in this week’s conference.
Thanks to the GoGreen team for putting on a great event, and to all the participants that made Wednesday such a valuable day. Hope to see you all back next year!
By Gordie Hanrahan
Last week, Wal-Mart released its 2009 Sustainability Report, and announced an aggressive goal to eliminate 20 million metric tons of GHG emissions from its global supply chain by the end of 2015. The goal was widely praised in the media, with sustainability and green business expert, Marc Gunther calling it “the largest carbon offset in the history of the world.”
The question that comes to my mind isn’t as much about the specific merits of Wal-Mart’s program or goals, or even their company’s overall citizenship credentials. My question is this: What makes Wal-Mart’s “Sustainability 360” program different from others that have been less enthusiastically embraced in the past or accused of Greenwashing?
While there are a number of factors involved in the success of this particular program, four key cornerstones stand out:
Last year, Wal-Mart sent out surveys to each of its 100,000 suppliers across the world, asking questions about energy efficiency, labor practices, solid and toxic waste disposal, etc. These surveys are available online, and the results were used to formulate Wal-Mart’s current environmental and social impact score. Furthermore, Wal-Mart’s website has a wealth of information about the specifics of the program (http://walmartstores.com/sites/sustainabilityreport/2009/index.html).
Rallying 100,000 suppliers to participate in a benchmarking process is no small task. Wal-Mart gathered their top thousand suppliers at a 2007 conference in China to develop the benchmarking surveys and establish the expectations that the corporation would have for its full supply chain. Next, Wal-Mart conducted a massive effort to distribute and collect the surveys, culminating in October of last year, and today suppliers have very clear guidelines about what they will need to do to maintain their relationship with Wal-Mart in the years to come.
Partnering with 3rd party organizations has always been a way to build credibility and bring in outside expertise, and this program is no exception. Starting in 2005, when Wal-Mart initiated Sustainability 360, the company has worked with outside organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund and Carbon Disclosure Project to develop its energy auditing process and establish a protocol for improving efficiency in both stores and supplier facilities.
Regardless of your opinion of the retail giant, their past labor practices, or the impact of their stores on communities, the company’s impact on the global economy is undeniable. Wal-Mart wields a worldwide army of over 2 million employees and vendors, at nearly 8,000 stores across the globe, stocked by a chain of over 100,000 suppliers. 20 million metric tons of GHG is a huge number, but Wal-Mart is the type of company capable of this type of impact.
This last point isn’t so much about overall carbon reduction—the bottom line is that not every company (or nation for that matter) in the world can have the impact of a Wal-Mart—but instead it’s about setting realistic goals. Wal-Mart clearly took the time to consult partners like the EDF and CDP to establish benchmarks and determine achievable targets for their program, and is now leveraging its size and communication network to convert their planning into action. While most companies can’t operate on this scale, they CAN take cues from the program Wal-Mart has put into place, and model their sustainability and citizenship programs after this highly praised approach.
I’d love to open the conversation up more broadly—are there any key pillars of creating a sustainability program that I’m missing? What, in your opinions, are the key cornerstones that make sustainability programs real and actionable?
In short, what makes Wal-Mart’s Sustainability 360 special?