Gem of the day

What does it say about Interbrand's 50 Best Global Green Brands 2013 that four out of the top five are car manufacturers? Not surprisingly, Interbrand has specifically highlighted that question. Even less of a surprise is that their answer is misses the point.

Congratulating auto companies for "keeping the long term in focus" is rightfully said for Toyota, a business guided by a vision to achieve sustainable mobility. For other manufacturers, the real test of whether they deserve to be on any list like this one will be their approach in emerging markets where the sales are, not in slow-moving efforts to transform or adapt some product and service offerings in Europe and North America. If those companies are truly balancing long and short term goals, it will be by influencing the mobility system in countries like China - now the biggest car market in the world - not least by helping governments avoid the car-dependency culture that has trapped the USA in a cycle of obesity, air pollution, suburban malaise and punishing oil prices. Rethinking what America might do with the estimated three parking spaces per person of empty concrete space is still in very early stages.

It goes without saying that the core of the Interbrand ranking, a score based on performance and "perception", is in and of itself a non-starter. One of several "perception" elements, for example, is "authenticity", which Interbrand describes as "the perceived credibility of the brand's environmental claims". Since authenticity can only be based on real action over the long term, "perceived credibility" is hardly a useful way of measuring it. Consider how often BP ranked in the top 10 most accountable companies in the world throughout the 2000s, only to reveal the extent of its inauthentic approach to environmental management in April 2010's Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Rankings like this one are amusing, but they don't tell us much about the core challenges ahead for the auto industry and beyond.


Another non-environmental wonder

Epic Pentagon Papers whisteblower Daniel Ellsberg nails how secrecy, and operating in a culture organised around the "haves" and "have nots" of classified information, turns people into "morons" (via the New Yorker):

"'You will deal with a person who doesn't have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know...[So] the danger is, you’ll become something like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.'"


Gem of the day

Via Nestle Waters Twitter debate, a classic case of corporate sustainability jargon raising the question, why bother even asking? Or more to the point, why should anyone in their right mind give the "reports not reporting" approach a single second of time?


Another non-environmental wonder

Case-in-point why Hillary Clinton didn't win the 2008 election against Obama, illustrated by one of the multiple slogans rolled out across the misguided campaign (via Jon Lovett):

"Strength + experience/change = 1"


Something that's actually good

Larry Huston of P&G fame explains why for most incumbents the concept of "transformation" fails to catalyse change (via London Business School):

"I think transformation is a dirty word. If you go and say to a company, 'I'm going to go transform you', they'll say, it's going to be impossible and we'll never finish. In the case of Connect + Develop we were careful not to position it as transformation – even though now it is. We said, we have a strong, powerful, global organisation, we've built outstanding capability all over the world, we have world class people, what we're going to do is take this already strong capability and turbocharge it. And so the core idea is based upon how do we turbocharge? And then, what are the accepted beliefs that people have about this kind of thing? How do we create its credentials?"


Something that's actually good

John Thackara on the mindset challenge of big data for multinationals (via Change Observer):

"A lack of data does not mean a lack of value and potential. Billions of people with low cash incomes meet their daily life needs outside the money economy — for example, through traditional networks of reciprocity and gifts...The problem with Big Data is not that numbers are bad — it’s that we’ve made them an end-in-themselves in ways that lead us to misallocate time, attention, and resources. Big Data can work well in support for online resource-sharing — AirBNB, Uber, eBay and their like — but they’re of modest efficacy to the informal economy where, to repeat, a big majority of the worlds’s citizens subsist."

What could be a more timely observation, as the giants that created the big data revolution come under scrutiny for their role in mass surveillance of Americans?


Another non-environmental wonder

How Walmart has lost its way (oh let us count the ways), according to retail man Doug Stephens (via Businessweek):

“This is the lesson Costco teaches. You don’t have to be Nordstrom selling $1,200 suits in order to pay people a living wage. That is what Walmart has lost sight of. A lot of people working at Walmart go home and live below the poverty line. You expect that person to come in and develop a rapport with customers who may be spending more than that person is making in a week? You expect them to be civil and happy about that?”


Gem of the day

In a potentially radical about-face, Apple has hired former EPA head Lisa Jackson to push environmental progress at the company. Great news for cleaner products with a cleaner foundation - renewables, zero waste.

But Jackson's true challenge may be moving beyond the built-in glass ceiling of her title - VP for Environmental Initiatives - to reframe sustainability as a powerful driver of innovation for the company (as Hannah Jones has done at Nike). An initial guess suggests that is unlikely to happen.