Just a quick note: One of my favorite little companies, Recycline, emailed to say that they're one of five finalists in a Forbes contest. Please check them out, and if you like what they do you might vote for them.
This week I'm attending an event in Boston called the Summit on the Future of the Corporation, which is part of the "Corporation 20/20" effort led by the Tellus Institute. The basic theme is corporate redesign, in other words: changing the rules of the game so that corporate power stays within reasonable limits, and is used constructively rather than destructively.
In keeping with the theme, the Summit is being held in Fanueil Hall - the place where our forefathers stood up to the British monarchy, and where this particular event considers standing up to the modern version of overly concentrated power: the corporation.
What has impressed me most about the conference so far is the willingness for very well-established professionals to re-think the whole meaning of the corporation in our society, and to suggest fairly radical changes in our laws and in our culture. These are top academics, authors, lawyers, executives, and sustainability professionals - all saying that the system is so broken that we need a new system.
Yesterday's talks generated a huge number of ideas, and today is supposed to be about where we go from here, to follow up constructively on the changes that need to happen. I'll write more soon.
I thought this was interesting - a new video that seeks to teach sustainability professionals how to engage others on these issues, without sabotaging their case by using too much jargon or making demands that seem tangential.
There’s a great article in this past Monday’s Wall Street
Journal about the evolution of socially responsible investing – from an
industry that mostly avoided “sin stocks” to one in which more nuanced options
are available. Here are some of the changes:
Now the line is fuzzier
on which stocks are "sin stocks" - whether, for example, a company involved in alcohol sales might be
responsible in other way (e.g., Starbucks).
Many investors are interested
in chasing the opportunities that arise from solving environmental problems
(e.g. renewable energy needs) and social problems (e.g., creating functional
economies in destitute areas of the world).
There’s a growing school of thought that any company not paying attention
to its environmental and social impacts runs the risk of being punished for its
negligence, and if the management isn’t on top of these issues they probably
aren’t very good managers in general.
Here's one of the many cool ideas I heard about at the Net Impact conference: RecycleBank, a group that sets up easy recycling in your city, pays you by the pound for your household recyclables, and makes its own money taking a cut of the municipal savings in landfill costs. It's a little more complicated than that, but rather than having me explain it, check out this great YouTube video.
At the recent Net Impact conference, Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard set the tone in the opening keynote by declaring: "I believe there is a proper size for every endeavor." In context, this meant that the company couldn't grow steadily and limitlessly while still keeping its values front and center, and that perhaps it can only grow so much before unacceptable trade-offs would need to be made.
About a year ago, I attended the launch party for GOOD Magazine in NYC, and fortuitously shared a taxi with a random stranger who turned out to be Alex Salzman, founder of Rethos.com.
Rethos derives its name from the idea of changing our culture (our ethos) to one that is more socially and environmentally sustainable. The site is one of several new social-networking platforms for young people interested in social and environmental action. Among its peers, Rethos has taken a long time to roll out a beta version - but the site looks fantastic, so it may have been time well spent. Even the could-be-cheezy setting of the "manifesto" to music is quite well done.
The CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, started out the Net Impact Conference as the keynote speaker. He's a unique character - an accidental business leader, who cares more about the making a quality product, enjoying the outdoors, and spending time with family and friends than any profit or sales figure.
And this isn't just hype. Yvon says things that are so naively honest, you have to believe there isn't an ounce of hype in him. One good sample quote:
"Leading the examined life, in the business world, is a real pain in the ass."
I just returned from the Net Impact annual conference. For those who aren't familiar already, Net Impact started 15 years ago as a group of MBAs forming "Students for Responsible Business" - but has since grown to over 10,000 students and professionals "changing the world through the power of business."