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This Moment On Earth

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Author: the Inkslinger

The day’s dawned bright and sharp here in the hinterlands of Vermont. In cloudless skies, winter’s own thin brand of blue telegraphs all we need to know. That the cold just beyond window etched in swirls of frost is deep and unmovable. And indeed the thermometer reads just 6° at morning’s first glance. It’s shiver-inducing fragment of briefest knowledge magnified by hard-edged north country sunlight rising frigid and unforgiving over the gleaming snowpack. A fine morning day to stoke the fire, uncork the informational bottle, and see what news of this moment on Earth pours out.

Let’s begin on the open seas where a coming U.N. report finds the world’s fast-growing shipping fleet is responsible for about 4.5% of global CO2 emissions, a figure that could rise 30% by 2030 because of zooming rates of international trade. It appears that when transportation-related environmental costs are factored in, goods from overseas aren’t so cheap after all. In fact, container ship ports have been identified as one of the biggest sources of pollution in the U.S. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two largest, have recognized the problem and are taking steps like requiring all ships to shut-down their on-board power systems when docked and banning vessels built before 1989, the year pollution-controls became standard gear on freighters. This is the sort of stuff regular folk like us never think too much about, but it’s good to know someone is. For our part, the lesson here is that the farther away something was made, the more CO2 its shipping generated. As always, sourcing whatever we can as locally as possible is hugely important where the climate crisis is concerned. Buy local!

News like that is why I like this:

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Where to Gas Up?

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It’s hard to feel that there’s a good choice to make when it comes time to filling up your tank. And even those of us with hybrids sooner or later need to make the stop. (I just bought Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, and while I’m still angry at Toyota for fighting against higher mileage standards in California, given where we live and the other options available, it seemed like the best choice – though it did take me almost three months of research to decide.)

In the current issue of Fast Company, there is the most complete research most complete research I’ve seen to help you decide which oil company is the cleanest and greenest.

“Fast Company turned to the sustainability experts at HIP Investor, Inc. and the Social Venture Technology Group, both based in San Francisco, for help. These firms have together developed an exclusive methodology they call HIP™?Human Impact + Profit?for measuring the environmental and social impacts of business. They rate companies based on their management practices (including setting sustainability goals, and if and how managers are held accountable for those goals), as well as their human impact (such as human rights, greenhouse-gas emissions, and investment in renewable-energy sources).”

Despite all their recent problems, BP comes out in first place followed by Chevron, then Shell, Marathon and Conoco.

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Butter Nuts

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Author: the Inkslinger

Returning to the blogosphere after a refreshing holiday hiatus spent largely away from all issues green (‘cept for that tree in the middle of my living room…), I’m finding a lot of news and other items to catch up on. For no real reason other than it was the first thing I encountered this morning, I’ll start with this item, which I think aptly illustrates the dubious art of corporate responsibility misdirection.

Here’s the deal: A week or so before Christmas, ConAgra Foods announced that it was joining three other microwave popcorn manufacturers, General Mills, the American Pop Corn Company and Weave Popcorn Company, in removing a butter flavoring ingredient called diacetyl from their products. You may have heard about this. Workers at microwave popcorn factories have been suffering devastating lung disease that’s been traced to diacetyl fumes in the air where they work.

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Can Companies Really Care About Their Customers?

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“Two years ago, Isobella Jade was down on her luck, living on a friend’s couch and struggling to make it as a fashion model when she had the idea of writing a book about her experience as a short woman trying to break into the modeling business.

“Unable to afford a computer, Ms. Jade, 25, began cadging time on a laptop at the Apple store in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Ms. Jade spent hours at a stretch standing in a discreet corner of the store, typing. Within a few months, she had written nearly 300 pages.

“Not only did store employees not mind, but at closing time they often made certain to shut Ms. Jade’s computer down last, to give her a little extra time. A few months later, the store invited her to give an in-store reading from her manuscript.”

When I read that story in the New York Times, it reminded me of how much it’s actually possible for companies to care about their customers. And how the boundaries of that care and the resulting relationships can move totally beyond anything that anyone could ever describe in a how-to-manage-customer-relationships manual.

We live in a world of increasing rules, regulations, and instruction books. Lots of pages filled with what to do and not to do. But in an age where there is a huge hunger for relationships and unbounded possibility, we need to be guided by our values and beliefs. We need to trust those we work with to carry them out as they see fit and in doing so create possibility where none previously existed.

It is in that space of trust, which comes not from a detailed map but an aligned understanding of the direction we’re headed in, that our creativity and compassion can bloom.

In the year ahead, we need to figure out how to build trust and take the handcuffs off those that work for and with us.

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Diaper Daze

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Author: the Inkslinger

Here’s a question few of us ever have to face: what do you do with a quarter million diapers that work fine but can’t be sold? Give yourself a gold star if you answered “give ‘em away to people who can use them.” That’s what we did yesterday. We had all these second-quality diapers that were perfectly usable but had essentially meaningless manufacturing flaws that meant we couldn’t ship them to our retailers. So we partnered with a local non-profit to hold a great diaper giveaway for needy families in central Vermont. Voila! A perfect solution that solves a bunch of problems at once. The diapers don’t get dumped in the trash (a thought that made us all break out into a near permanent cringe) and some folks who could really use them get to now.

It was a great day with smiles all around. Though it was cold and snowy, nobody minded the wait. And we had so many cases of diapers we were able to give a big bunch away to day care centers and some local non-profit organizations that work with families. It’s enough to make you wish the diaper-making machine would screw up more often…

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Winning One for the World

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Author: the Inkslinger

We’ve known it was coming for awhile but today it’s official so we can finally share the good news: Seventh Generation has won a 2008 Fast Company Social Capitalist Award. Sponsored by Fast Company Magazine and the Monitor Group, the awards honor those leading businesses and non-profit organizations who are harnessing the tools of the marketplace for the greater good and helping solve some of today’s most urgent challenges in the process.

We’re pretty psyched to have been recognized by the business community this way. As Jeffrey says in our press release, we’re living proof that a company can be a powerful force for positive in the change in the world and still make a profit. The two aren’t mutually exclusive propositions and receiving an award like this is one of the best ways to broadcast that vital message to the rest of the world.

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Find the Founder

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Author: the Inkslinger

We’re heading down into Thanksgiving here. Folks are departing for distant shores and points well known. There’s a quiet descending upon the scene and a calm that doesn’t come often enough if you ask me. It’s a good time to tie up loose ends, one of which is this round-up of Jeffrey’s recent media appearances…

Jeffrey got a double shot of love from Ad Age magazine recently. A video segment featured a clip of his speech at last week’s Idea Conference in New York City. And he made the mag’s Marketing 50, a look at “fifty sharp ideas and the visionaries who saw them through.” (We’re on page 5.)

An excerpt from the recent book Marketing That Matters featuring Jeffrey and Seventh Gen’s transparency efforts appeared on Article Dashboard last week.

Wrapping things up is this great Wall Street Journal podcast in which Jeffrey talks about daily life at Seventh Generation and all the things that make us a company that’s a bit different than most.

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Big Green Myth

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I was extremely disappointed to read Ben Elgin’s cover story in the October 29th issue of BusinessWeek magazine. The article, “Little Green Lies,” wrongly suggests that profits and environmental initiatives don’t mix and that companies cannot hope to be both successful and sustainable.

This myth has long been discredited, and my dismay at finding it still being given credence was so great that I fired off a letter to the editor, a portion of which has just been published on the Opinion page in the magazine’s November 12th issue. Here’s the complete version:

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