Cracker Barrel on Regulating Responsibility

Business and the Environment

Patenting the Environment, for good.

Came across this article this morning about Amazon patenting a new shipping process that will give customers information about the environmental  impact of shipping their order.  The hope is that customers will chose to wait longer for their packages if it means cutting down on the carbon released from shipping them overnight.

Looking forward to seeing how this one unfolds.  But, I’m also a bit leery about Amazon’s patent on the process. Maybe we should all share this kind of technology and not have to wait until the patent expires for every company to use this method.  On the other hand, perhaps Amazon can not be greedy and allow other companies to use the rights to the process if they pay homage to Amazon.

Either way, the impact of this project would make a great research project.


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Sustainability Index: Nicely played, Wal-Mart.

Well, done, Wal-Mart. Don’t change the way you act until the consumer wills it. Take a stand by not taking a stand. Let the market decide.

As Wal-Mart is doing with consumer products, it will begin asking agricultural producers questions about water, fertilizer and chemical use. The eventual goal is to include that information in a sustainability index.

Customers would see sustainability ratings, so they could decide whether to choose one avocado over another based on how efficiently it was grown and shipped. Wal-Mart could use index information when it decided from whom to buy. — NYTimes

This strategy puts the onus of control with the consumer.  Wal-Mart gets to look good by offering the index and not buying from those who consumers do not care as much for.  Wal-Mart also gets to make money, not by taking a stand on sustainable agriculture but by only selling what its customers are interested in.

Pure genius.

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How to use “continuous improvement” as a development strategy

Great (old) article from Berkeley economist Hal R. Varian on the Internet’s landscape of TQM.

Kaizen means that the companies currently in an industry have an inherent advantage over new entrants. Entrants have to guess what will work; the companies that are already operating can experiment and find out.

This information advantage doesn’t preclude new entries; it just makes it more costly since the learning curve is steeper.

So, how can markets be leveraged for the poor?  There are many ideas.  We should understand failures and successes.  After all…

This is not to say that new entry is impossible. As the old saying goes, “You can always tell the pioneers, they’re the ones with the arrows in their backs.”

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Social Enterprise and Corruption

Start a business against corruption.  Also listen to the self-sustaining ambulance project.

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Changing attitudes: From Heart-throb to Puppy Thief

A few days ago, I went to see a presentation at NYU by Dr. Rosina Bierbaum who co-directed the World Bank’s 2010 World Development Report on Development and Climate Change.

She spoke about the report, which takes climate change as a given, and its suggestions for what we can and should do to change our natural resource guzzling ways.  At the end she drew an interesting correlation to show that perceptions about habits do change that I want to share now.

She showed a picture of Cary Grant smoking a cigarette.  Not many people in the room could remember Cary Grant and how he had always been pictured smoking.

Smokin' heart-throb

Then she quoted her niece who had told her, “The only person that smokes nowadays is Cruella DeVille and she steals Dalmation puppies.”

Puppy thief

So, I thought that was kind of hopeful.  Maybe we can change our ideas about how to use the environment.   How and when?  Now seems like a good a time as any.

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Bad Barrel: Evidence from India

A May 2010 World Bank study of the garment industry in Mumbai, India has uncovered some promising results for changing the way factories are managed.

Results are promising for factories where managers are either unaware or not convinced that there were other ways to organize factory work.

The management approach to responsibility and work with dignity seems to be carrying the day in India.  I will certainly be staying tuned for the results of more extensive research.

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How to be responsible. An Oxfam Guidebook.

Oxfam International just released a guide relating to labor issues as part of their Briefings for Business series. The twenty-page guide offers brief case studies and to the point analysis of the way businesses can embrace ethical trade.

If you were looking for pity analysis of how this guide will just be thrown on the heap with the rest, you won’t find it here.  I’m doing my part to spread the word.

Better Jobs in Better Supply Chains

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Creating new opportunities, or filling the gap

CSR Asia today published a piece about entrepreneurs in China – those employees who sell meals to other employees during their lunch break.  Is this a way for a company to encourage provision of meals for employees or another excuse to not pay a living wage?

Read the article here.

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Dueling Perspectives

Next weekend Anacafé, the National Coffee Association of Guatemala will host its annual coffee conference in Guatemala City.  The focus will be capacity building focused on raising the quality of Guatemalan coffees.

Simultaneously, the ministry of economics is hosting a national conference on fair trade and solidarity at least four hours away in Chimaltenango.

Do these guys even talk to each other?

Are the two topics mutually exclusive?

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Challenging the old model, no really challenging it

Maybe we’ve been going about the regulation of sweatshop labor all wrong.  Knights Apparel, supplier to a large market base already, has established factories that pay well above the minimum wage and operate with a smaller profit margin.

If you really want to challenge the system, maybe the answer isn’t to regulate responsibility through standards and market incentives but to go out and open a responsible business.

To clarify, Knights Apparel is closely associated with the Worker’s Rights Consortium which is a standard bearer for working conditions in college apparel suppliers.  Knights Apparel is also hoping to harness the markets it already has access to in order to be able to take the lower profit margin.

Read the story from the NYTimes here.

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