Filed under: Corporate Citizenship, Google, Unilever | Tags: Anglo-American, Corporate Citizenship, GE, Google, Kimberley Clark, Occupy, SABMiller, Unilever, Walmart
This year, I’ve had conversations on with ten major corporations about business and society – mainly FTSE-100 companies, and mainly at CEO or Chairman level. All really interesting.
They’re all keenly aware of the hostile, anti-corporate sentiment surrounding them. As one client put, “my teenage kids think we’re the bad guys”.
So it’s been interesting to read Screw Business As Usual – not an Occupy manifesto, but the new Branson book. I doubt that Branson’s kids think he’s one of the bad guys; he’s still the anti-establishment rock-star CEO.
It’s a good read. Raconteur-ish, but well researched. As you’d expect, there’s plenty on the power of entrepreneurial thinking, and its potential to solve the world’s problems.
More surprising is that Branson – the self-styled Goliath challenger – is a real champion for the positive impact that big corporations can have. He gives the clearest articulation of this when discussing Walmart:
[Walmart] now has 100,000 suppliers, 2.1 million employees, 200 million customer visits oer week and annual sales of $419 billion (greater than the GDP of more than 166 countries)… Just their sheer size means that when they do get something right it has incredible ripple effects. They can shift a whole industry by applying pressure in the right places… They can also create millions of opportunities when they shift their buying strategy.
It’s a good articulation of why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. There are plenty of other examples he picks up:
• GE’s commitment, through Ecomagination, to investing $1.5 billion annually into R&D on clean tech.
• Anglo-American’s pioneering work to fight HIV/AIDS in South Africa, before the ANC recognized the problem.
• Google’s work making data available to promote an open discussion on global drugs policy.
• Kimberly-Clark’s invention of the tubeless toilet-roll (trivial? 17 billion tubes go into landfill each year in the US alone. Who knew).
• SABMiller’s innovative work in Africa’s newest country – South Sudan – brewing beer from Cassava to in order to buy from local farmers.
• Unilever’s Project Shakti in India, establishing thousands of female “micro-entrepreneurs” in a distribution network across 135,000 villages.
Some of these companies are our clients – and it’s safe to say that none of them have had an easy time being the good guys. All of them have had difficult issues: tax avoidance, palm oil, privacy, safety, etc etc. But these businesses can be a positive force – and Branson’s book gives a handful of them a slap on the back. A bit of positive reinforcement, to balance the well-deserved public pressure.
Image from IndyBay
Filed under: Google, Nike Foundation | Tags: Data, Google, Nike Foundation
Part One of this post described Google as a sinister megacorp, creeping into our lives. Part Two looks at the counter: Google as a force for good – or at least, not a malignancy.
We all know Google’s famous Don’t Be Evil maxim, and the commitment to give 1% of Google’s equity and profit to its foundation, Google.org. Here’s the big ambition:
We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.
So what is Google.org doing exactly? That was four years ago, is it about to eclipse Google? Here are some highlights:
Atlantic Wind Connection is the largest US offshore windfarm to date, with Google using its cash to kickstart the business. The string of turbines will stretch 350 miles off the Atlantic coast from Virginia to New Jersey, serving nearly 2 million homes. In terms of it’s core operations, Google already claims to have the world’s greenest data centres.
Google Earth Engine is a set of mapping tools and a massive warehouse of data – trillions of scientific measurements dating back 25 years – to help scientists map trends and quantify differences on the earth’s surface. The engine will help track deforestation and land use trends.
Google Powermeter connects into smart electricity meters and lets you monitor the energy use of a home or business in real time – from any computer, anywhere.
Google Crisis Response makes critical information available during a disaster, such as maps, satelitte imagery, and people/resource location.
All great initiatives – but there’s a sense of disappointment around Google.org, summed up in this article from today’s New York Times. Still, I think it’s early days – and fair play on Google for the level of ambition.
Much of these initiatives seem to flow directly from Google’s core mission statement: to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful. The power of data. Google has done a lot to push data out there – at breathtaking scale, such as such as Google nGram and Google Trends.
It would be interesting to see Google pro-actively working with pro-social organizations, helping them to figure out how to squeeze value out of data. When I was working with Nike Foundation, I met with Maplecroft – an interesting company who crunch through huge datasets and map risks and insights. They have some great tools that allow you to play with the data – such as Girls Discovered below, developed in partnership with Nike Foundation:
Developing more tools like this would be really useful. As data geek James Standen says on his blog Datamartist: “Good decisions are made based on good data. Good data does good”.
So, Google, good or evil? Well, obviously that’s a stupid question. For a start, who seriously talks about evil these days? What does it mean, exactly? I found an interesting First Monday essay on Google, which concludes “in the modern era, saying is that one is not evil is meaningless. It suggests an unexamined morality; one that finds virtue in good intentions, rather than in good social practice”. Can’t argue with that.
The real question is, can such a huge public company be a public good? Obviously, the answer is yes – but be vigilant. As Don Tapscot said in a recend LSE lecture, “Google says do no evil, but there’s a lot of evil to be done here, when you have that much power”.
It’s a modern archetype: the malevolent corporation, powerful beyond control, infiltrating our lives, absorbing or destroying anything that stands in its way. Sci-fi loves this archetype: Tyrell Corp in Bladerunner, ZeiraCorp in Terminator, RDA Corporation in Avatar, Superman’s LuthaCorp – Quora has a long list.
These companies all sound evil, don’t they? They may as well be called EvilCorp. It’s no wonder that real corporates long ago stopped sounding corporate, and now are called things like…. Google.
Google fits this archetype: corporate as a kind of anti-God – all powerful, all seeing, omnipresent. William Gibson coined the term megacorp to describe these companies. He was talking about Tessier-Ashpool SA from his book Neuromancer (at the time he introduces the word cyberspace), but he could have been talking about Google.
Google’s interests have become so wide, it’s hard to answer a simple question. What business is Google actually in? Here are some answers:
As well as all this, Google is piling in to a whole bunch of other areas, such as health, financial services and automotive. Combine this with it’s activities in mapping, street view, oh – and did I mention search? – and pretty soon you have an all seeing, omnipresent megacorp. Right?
The Wall Street Journal recently published an infographic showing the creep of Google into different areas of our lives, accumulating “vast pools of data about its users”. Aside from all my contacts, and my search history for a decade (the horror), Google has much of my financial data. How long before Google does my tax returns? How long before Google has my health records, and recommends treatments?
So, what happens next? If William Gibson were answering that, we’d have Serge and Larry uploading their personalities into the Cloud and putting their bodies in cryonic suspension, whilst Google’s vast network of data becomes fully intelligent and infiltrates every aspect of our lives.
Yes, sounds far-fetched – until you remember Larry Page talking about Google-augmented brains…. Anyway, actually there are many good reasons to love Google – maybe I’ll do another post on this. Any ideas?
Image from Red Ice.
Filed under: Apple, Google | Tags: 3G, Apple, digital, Google, GPS, iPad, iPhone, Morgan Stanley, smartphone, WiFi
Apparently there’s an “unprecedented intensity” of innovation about at the moment. That’s according to a recent report I picked up by Morgan Stanley. It’s not just the usual suspects – Google’s Chrome and Android; Apple’s iPad and iPhone4. There are plenty of other examples: such as location aware mobile services (Yelp), the growth of cloud services (Salesforce), and real-time 24/7 connectivity.
All of this really adds up to one thing: smartphones. They talk a lot about a “global broad-based wireless infrastructure”: 3G+, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth. Apparently we’re at an inflection point in growth of global mobile internet. If this is true, it’s quite breath-taking: 45% of the world population connected by 2014:
Is this a good thing? Or just a bigger digital divide? In terms of mobile handsets, the developing world is catching up fast, with over 2 billion new users in the last three years, according to a UN report. The same report estimates that there are now more internet users in the developing world than in the developed world. All sounds like a good start.
Google’s Eric Schmidt has no doubts that mobile internet is good for everyone. In a Guardian interview today: “Over my lifetime, we are going to go from a small number of people having access to most of the world’s information, to virtually everybody in the world having access to virtually all of the world’s information,” he said. “That’s because of web search, cheap phones and automatic translation.” Well, cool – let’s hope “virtually everybody” benefits.
Filed under: Apple, Coca-Cola, Corporate Citizenship, Ethical Consumerism, Google | Tags: Apple, Coca-Cola, Corporate Citizenship, Google
This killer chart comes from Business In The Community – it shows that companies in their CR Index outperform the FTSE-350. If you’re a shareholder in one of these companies, you’d be getting an average of 10 percentage points higher shareholder return.
Good business is better business – we’ve been banging on about this for a while now, and this seems like pretty good evidence. There are three possible reasons for this.
- Strong pro-social performance suggests forward-thinking management. These companies are probably better managed overall, and better able to bounce back.
- These companies have already embedded sustainability into their operations – and are probably reaping cost efficiencies already.
- They’re also embedding pro-social objectives into their core business development – companies like Unilever and M&S using it to engage consumers and grow new markets.
So, being good is a predictor of business performance. Last week also saw the release of the fifth annual ImagePower Green Brands Survey (as if “green” were all that mattered). It surveyed 9,000 consumers in eight countries – and some familiar names topped the list: Microsoft, Intel, Nokia, Ikea and Apple were among the brands considered among the greenest alongside Google and grocery retailer Whole Foods.
You can bet there are some gaps between perception against reality here: some brands aren’t nearly as green as people might think (e.g., Apple), and others are more pro-social than you might imagine (e.g., Coca-Cola). Understanding these differences might unlock some interesting ideas.
Filed under: Apple, Banks, Coca-Cola, Google, Pharma, Vodafone | Tags: Apple, Banks, Coca-Cola, disaster relief, Google, Pharma, Vodafone
Are they genuine good neighbours, or just jumping on the help-Haiti bandwagon? Who cares if the result is positive. Big brands are queueing up to help – here are some of the ways they’re doing it.
In response to requests from relief agencies, Google has released a new layer on Google Earth showing pre/post earthquake satellite images. Google has also set up a person-finder service and donated $1 million to relief agencies.
Coke can bottle water on a mass scale – a real lifeline. After the 2004 Tsunami, Coke’s bottlers and distributors provided safe drinking water to many of the effected areas. In 2007, Coke provided 1.5 million liters of bottled water to victims of the floods in Mexico. Coke says it’s bottling plant in the Dominican Republic is providing water to Haiti, and the company has also donated $1 million to relief efforts.
T-Mobile has received a lot of coverage for it’s announcement on Thursday of free calls to Haiti for customers trying to connect with ” loved ones in Haiti during the aftermath”.
The games developer behind MafiaWars and FarmVille, Zynga has over 40 million daily users. By integrating donation into the gameplay, Zynga has so far raised over $1.2 million to the UN Food Programme- and this is expected to be a lot higher.
Big-pharma companies stand accused of exploiting the developing world through drugs-trial programmes and the high price of patented AIDS medication. Against this background, AstraZeneca is providing supplies of antibiotics and respiratory medication to the relief effort.
Vodafone has long-standing partnerships with Oxfam and Telecom Sans Frontiers, providing emergency telecommunications for disaster relief – and teams of telecoms engineers are currently in Haiti.
…AND THE BANKS?
The big banks are definitely still in the dog house. You might think they’d want to show their caring side by joining the help-Haiti brigade – but no, aside from a smattering of donations that don’t add up to a mid-level bonus: JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs each donated $1 million. Indeed, Huffington Post estimates that US banks and credit card companies have been actually making money out of disasters, earning around £250 million a year on charitable donations. The article prompted Visa, Mastercard and Amex to waive fees for the Haiti appeal.
A list of other random corporate contributions is in this Reuters “fact box“.
Filed under: Advertising, Climate Change, Environment, Google, Innovation, Mother | Tags: Advertising, Climate Change, energy saving trust, environmental, Google, Innovation, Mother, virgin
The first post on this blog talked about “Public Innovation Challenges” – such as the Virgin Earth Challenge, with its $25 million prize for anyone who can figure out a way to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
More recently, Google’s Project 10100 offered $10 million for “ideas to change the world”. They were overwhelmed with over 150,000 ideas in 25 different languages. Google says it took over 3,000 employees to read them – and they’ve left the decision to a public vote which closes this Friday.
Our clients at the Energy Saving Trust are joining the party, helping to launch the Low Carbon Communities Challenge, a £10 million fund to help communities such as transition towns to reduce their carbon output. This may not be a vast amount of money, but it’s a progressive approach: encouraging and enabling local communities to take action has to be a smart way forward.
In the meantime, Mother’s ad for the Energy Saving Trust went live last week with a different kind of challenge: stop wasting energy. Saving the planet may be important to many, but right now saving money is important to everyone. Even so, doing an ad about energy saving promised to be deadly dull, so we’ve tried to add a bit of charm to it, in the form of Dave. Recognize the voice?