A blog for Corporate Responsibility professionals. I highlight trends, emerging issues, and best practices, as well as introduce you to leading CR professionals. I bring you practical tips, tools and frameworks you can use. Ultimately, I aim to inspire and motivate, and raise awareness of the important role CR professionals play in business and society today. For more information, visit me at https://www.maggiekohnconsulting.com/
With many grocery stores already leveraging the “low hanging fruit” by eliminating single-use plastic grocery bags, some are now moving further up the fruit (and vegetable) “tree” in their plastic reduction efforts.
This month, Aldi U.K. became the latest supermarket chain to announce that it will remove plastic packaging from its fresh vegetable lines in 230 stores in the North East and South East of England. This follows the success of a six-week trial in Scotland. If the expanded pilot proves successful, Aldi says it will roll out the plastic-free produce lines to all stores before the end of the year, which it predicts will avoid the use of more than 100 tons of plastic annually.
Other European retailers get on board
A study by Coleman Parkes Research of 7,000 shoppers across Europe found that that 92 percent would prefer to buy a plastic-free unit of their favorite product than one in plastic, with more than one-third having already begun boycotting certain brands over packaging sustainability concerns. This rises to more than one-half (56 percent) among millennials.
A similar survey of 5,000 consumers found that 80 percent of them would endorse a supermarket’s move to go plastic-free, while 91 percent would be more likely to encourage friends and family to shop there.
Retailers are taking note. The Dutch grocery chain Ahold Delhaize is piloting an initiative in Belgium to reduce “unnecessary” packaging on organic fruits and vegetables using a new process called "natural branding" that applies a label directly to the peel of fruits and vegetables using a laser. The company says the process won’t affect the taste, smell or shelf life of the produce and will reduce waste by 13 tons per year.
Sainsbury’s -- the third largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom – has committed to eliminate “problematic or unnecessary” single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models by 2025. It recently eliminated plastic bags holding cauliflowers, tomatoes and avocados, and has pledged to eliminate plastic bags from organic bananas and cabbage by the end of the year. Together, the store says, this will eliminate 181 tons of plastic waste.
The Welsh supermarket chain Iceland piloted a similar effort earlier this year in Liverpool where it gauged customer acceptance to purchase loose produce or produce in plastic-free packaging alternatives, such as recyclable paper pulp boxes (or “punnets,” as they are known by U.K. shoppers) for soft fruits and cotton nets for onions.
To encourage shoppers to opt for loose produce, Iceland reduced the prices of all loose product lines verses their pre-packaged equivalents. If the pilot is successful, the company plans to roll out the program nationwide. No word yet on the results, but Iceland’s leadership is encouraging.
“The retail industry can no longer ignore the plastics tidal wave which is coming our way," Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said in an interview with the U.K. sustainability news site Edie. “The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change.”
Marks & Spencer (M&S) is also experimenting with loose fruit and vegetables completely free of plastic packaging and has removed “best before” date labels from fresh fruit and vegetables as part of the trial. M&S will track changes in the store’s plastic and food waste outputs and carry out consumer surveys to gauge public attitudes toward produce without plastic packaging or “best-before” dates. This data will help the company develop a new approach to waste, which, it says, will be implemented across its 1,000-plus stores. This, it says, could save 580 tons of plastic waste over two years.
“We know our customers want to play their part in cutting out plastic, while as a business our goal is to become zero-waste by 2025,” said Louise Nicholls, Head of Food Sustainability, for M&S.
It's bananas in South East Asia
Asian grocers are also nixing single-use plastic bags, using Mother Nature’s own packaging. Earlier this year, some supermarkets in Asia started using banana leaves instead of plastic to package produce. The practice started with Rimping Supermarket in Thailand and spread to Lotte Market, Saigon Co.Op. and Big C grocers in Vietnam.
“When I see vegetables wrapped in those beautiful banana leaves I’m willing to buy larger quantities,” said a Vietnamese customer named Hoa to the news site NextShark while shopping at Lotte Mart in Ho Chi Minh City. “I think this initiative will help locals be more aware of protecting the environment.”
It’s a smart move -- not only to respond to customer demand, but also because Thailand and Vietnam rank amongst the highest in the world for the amount of single-use plastic waste dumped into the ocean, according to Ocean Conservancy.
One company that is taking positive steps is California-based Trader Joe’s. The company, which prides itself on its environmental sustainability in its 488 U.S. stores, says it has replaced plastic produce bags with biodegradable and compostable produce bags. And it has pledged to further reduce the number of items sold in plastic packages in its produce section, including apple, pear and potato bags.
One would expect (and hope) to see similar moves in other U.S. grocery chains, notably Whole Foods, Wegmans and Kroger, in the months ahead.
Critics of artificial intelligence (AI) have found their fair share of reasons to raise concerns about this technology. Facial recognition systems that don’t recognize darker-skinned faces. Hiring algorithms that bypass resumes that contain the word “women.” A chatbot taught through interactions with users to be racist and misogynistic. But these examples don’t have to define the future.
AI systems are only as good as the data put into them, including implicit racial, gender or ideological biases. As more and more examples of AI gone wrong arise, the risks are threatening to overshadow AI’s potential benefits. And with each new example, the public’s trust in AI further erodes.
A growing number of companies are taking note and action to mitigate the risk and, in the process, finding opportunities to offer solutions.
Serving up responsible solutions for AI
After becoming one of the founding members of the Partnership for Responsible AI, tech giant IBMis creating methodologies that will enable its clients to detect and mitigate bias within their AI applications. The company is also sharing its knowledge through the Fairness 360 Open Source Toolkit,which helps app developers examine, report and mitigate discrimination and bias in machine learning models throughout the AI application lifecycle. This program includes more than 70 fairness metrics and 10 bias mitigation algorithms with relevance to finance, human capital management, healthcare and education. It also contains three tutorials that detect and mitigate age bias in credit scoring, racial bias in medical management, and gender bias in face images.
Microsoft is building a tool to identify bias in a range of different AI algorithms and to raise awareness among its employees.
“The most important thing companies can do right now is educate their workforce so that they’re aware of the myriad ways in which bias can arise and manifest itself and create tools to make models easier to understand and bias easier to detect,” Rich Caruna, a senior Microsoft researcher told the MIT Technology Review last year.
Jigsaw, a unit within Google's parent company Alphabet, recently announced a partnership with GLAAD to create public data sets and machine learning research resources to help make online conversations more inclusive of the LGBTQ community.
“Our mission is help communities have great conversations at scale,” said Cj Adams, Jigsaw Product Manager. “We can't be content to let computers adopt negative biases from the abuse and harassment targeted groups face online.”
It’s not just tech firms who have been proactive on the AI front. Accenture is also getting on board through its new Applied Intelligence practice, which recently launched the “AI Fairness Tool.” The tool examines data influence of sensitive variables (age, gender, race, etc.) on other variables in a model, measuring how much of a correlation the variables have with each other to see whether they are skewing the model and its outcomes. It then helps correct the bias in the algorithm.
Accenture is currently fielding partners for testing the tool, which it has prototyped so far on a model for credit risk, and is preparing for a soft launch. The tool will be part of a larger program called AI Launchpad, which will help companies create frameworks for accountability and train employees in ethics, so they know what to think about and what questions to ask.
“I’m hoping that this is something we can make accessible and available and easy to use for non-tech companies – for some of our Fortune 500 clients who are looking to expand their use of AI, but they’re very aware and very concerned about unintended consequences,” says Rumman Chowdhury, Accenture’s global responsible AI lead.
No single person has the context to spot everything
Michael Li, founder and CEO of The Data Incubator, a data science training and placement firm, told the Harvard Business Review he believes that “the risks of AI can come from any aspect of business, and no single manager has the context to spot everything. Rather, in a world in which AI is permeating everything, companies need to train all their business leaders on AI’s potential and risks, so that every line of business can spot opportunities and flag concerns.”
He calls on business to offer its employees specialized AI training to understand both the possibilities and the risks. “This is not technical — executives don’t need to be hands-on practitioners — but they do need to understand data science and AI enough to manage AI products and services. Business leaders need to understand the potential for AI to transform business for the better, as well as its potential shortcomings — and dangers.”
I was at this week’s 12th annual BBB Forum on Corporate Responsibility (CR) in New York, held at one of my new favorite places in the city, Scandinavia House. (If you haven’t visited, you should – it has a great gift store and an amazing Scandinavian-inspired café appropriately called Smörgås. It’s short walk from Grand Central south on Park Avenue). For those who could not attend, here are a few nuggets from the various speakers on megatrends shaping the CR agenda.
Keynote speaker and CR veteran formerly with J&J Al Iannuzzi, who has been leading the newly amped- up sustainability efforts at The Estee Lauder Companiesfor the past nine months, says companies “need to up their game” in sustainability. He also “doesn’t believe there are any sustainable companies out there – [but that] sustainability is a journey.”
By the end of 2025, all Estee Lauder brands – from Aveda to Tory Burch – will be tied to a social or environmental cause, he shared. Each brand also will have annual sustainability objectives, targets and metrics, and an annual sustainability scorecard that gets incorporated into an enterprise-wide scorecard.
Estee Lauder is also serious about transparency as part of its strategy to win and maintain customer trust. All brands will disclose ingredients and their purpose on the brand’s website. Also, look for the company to release new sustainability goals this September around energy and efforts to further reduce the environmental impacts of their products through green chemistry.
Jamie Martin, Executive Director of Global Sustainable Finance at Morgan Stanley, confirmed that ESG investing is not a trend but is here to stay. He shared his excitement over the proliferation of green and sustainable bonds from companies such as Unilever, Toyota and Starbucks, saying investors are “gobbling” them up. “They are a great way to push a company forward from both a financial and sustainability standpoint,” he said.
Etsy’sHead of Global Advocacy and Policy, Althea Erickson, was particularly interesting, sharing how the company strives to the be the policy voice of its sellers in Washington on issues that affect them and their businesses such as taxation and economic security. Another highlight she shared were the company’s efforts to address barriers to entrepreneurship such as hosting skill-building workshops at low-income housing centers. She also touched on Etsy’s strategy to offset 100 percent of its emissions generated by client shipments, saying this is only the beginning of their journey and hoping that larger online players will follow their example. Next up for Etsy is helping their sellers build sustainability into their own supply chains.
Among the many interesting points from Andre Fourie, Global Director of Water Sustainability at Anheuser-Busch InBev, was an example of how the company partnered with the government in Cape Town, South Africa, to address last year’s water crisis. Leveraging their expertise in water management, the company helped isolate leaks throughout the city’s water system and help address pressure challenges. Such partnership, he noted, helps build strong community ties and trust, which are important during times of crisis.
Perhaps the best discussion, however, was with Julia Wilson,Nielsen’senergetic Vice President of Global Responsibility & Sustainability, who has been on the speaking circuit this past year with the message that, when done right, sustainability sells.
She urged CR/sustainability professionals to “find new opportunities for growth across the spectrum of sustainability” by determining what sustainability claims or attributes resonate most to their customers and then put these insights into actions with brand teams. “When you bring sustainability insights to the table and they translate into wins for the business, you’ll be invited back to the table.”
Caroline Rees, President and Co-Founder of the Shift Project, which specializes in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, shared why attention to human rights is not just important from a risk management perspective, but can be the single most important way an organization is able to positively impact the “people” component of its sustainability strategy.
The final speaker of the day gave an impassioned discussion on plastic waste, citing that unless there is dramatic change, an additional 104 MMT of plastic pollution could enter our ecosystem by 2030 – the equivalent of 17 million elephants. Australian native and Manager of Climate Change and Sustainability Services at EY, Jamie Lee Mattison, shared examples of how companies are responding by turning the threat of plastic waste into an opportunity. She cited among others Coke’s pledge to collect and recycle 100 percent of solid packaging by 2030.
I have to say that all the speakers were really great and offered unique insights. Well worth a half day in New York on a lovely day in June.