Eco shoppers keep the tills ringing, the Coca-Cola bag that’s this season’s must-have, and how mobile phone text messages can beat malaria

Buying green defies economic slump

How’s this for some new year cheer: ethical spending in the UK has stuck its little green nose up at the economic downturn, up £500m from the previous year, according to the Co-operative Bank’s latest report, Ten Years of Ethical Consumerism 1999-2008.

The report, a “barometer of ethical spending”, reveals that the UK’s ethical market was worth £36bn in 2008, up three-fold from 1999. The report examines ethical sales data for a range of sectors including food, household goods, eco-travel and ethical finance.

To be fair, the increase was slower than in previous years and, not surprisingly, ethical finance had a dip in spending (£15.6bn in 2007 to £14.4bn in 2008).

But let’s not get glum. Russ Brady of the Co-operative Bank notes there was a 13% rise in ethical banking, as consumers increasingly moved their money to ethical providers post credit crunch. Fairtrade can proudly shake its money maker, with sales up 30-fold, reaching £635m, and is on track to break the £1bn barrier in 2010.

The continued growth of the green market demonstrates its resilience and, hopefully, reflects the good work of corporate responsibility professionals who have shown UK shoppers the value of supporting sustainable goods and services.

But the buck can’t stop there. Brady says: “Whilst the trends continue to move forwards positively, despite the impact of the recession, CSR professionals cannot lose sight of the fact that ethical spending is still small relative to total economic consumption [under 1%], and there’s much to do if we are to achieve the step-change that will lead to a more stable and sustainable future.”

Centrica: best online communications in UK

Centrica, the UK’s biggest energy supplier, won the 2009 UK CSR Online Awards, a ranking of the best online corporate responsibility communications of the largest companies in the FTSE 100 index. Shell came in second and Rio Tinto in third.

While they were at it, Lundquist ranked global leaders in online CR communications, examining 91 members of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Eni, an Italian oil and gas company, took first place. But the Brits weren’t too shabby, with four UK companies making top ten: Shell (3rd), Rio Tinto (4th), Tesco (5th) and Kingfisher (7th).

The 23 UK companies in the study performed the best overall, with an average score of 53.5 points out of 100. Companies from the rest of Europe scored 51.8, and America plopped into third with 43.6 points.

Do we really care about awards, anyway? In this case, there are some noteworthy findings.

The primary reason UK companies came out on top was because they included information across all key CR areas – sustainability reports, codes of ethics, targets, environmental data and community involvement – in one, clear location online.

And of course a neat presentation makes the site easier to use and therefore more accessible, ie everyday, non-CR folks can read it and (care to) get it. This bodes well for all stakeholders.

Coca-Cola’s foray into fashion

Ecoist, the eco-fashion accessories company, has renewed its partnership with Coca-Cola to create a new, limited edition handbag collection using overrun and discontinued labels from Coke beverage brands. This avant-garde collection features funky prints and patterns using various Coke product labels.

Since the programme began in 2007, over 1m Coke labels have been saved from North American landfill. The programme goes beyond fashionable upcycling to deeper community involvement, as the bags are handcrafted by artisans in Peru using fair trade practices. And the environmental cherry on top is that the partnership’s Buy a Bag, Plant a Tree programme has planted over 5,000 trees.

“Our vision was to develop a line of environmentally friendly products, ones that inspire consumers to see normally discarded objects as new, beautiful, usable everyday things,” says Kelli Sogar, Coke’s global business development manager for licensing. “Continuing and expanding our partnership with Ecoist allows Coke’s global scale to truly impact upcycling in a meaningful, holistic way.”

Are the bags haute couture? No. Are they even a little kitsch? Yes. The initiative would be even stronger and sell more bags if they were slightly more fashionable and better marketed to the wider public. Still, they’re making a statement.

Gucci protects Indonesia rainforest

Gucci Group’s CR efforts have gained some bulk by reducing shady pulp. In partnership with the Rainforest Action Network, the luxury giant will eliminate all paper made from Indonesian rainforests and plantations, including controversial suppliers like Asia Pulp and Paper, by December 2010.

In so doing, Gucci is committing some of the world’s poshest fashion brands, including Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Balenciaga to reducing paper use and exclusively buying recycled products, or those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

PPR, the French owner of the Gucci Group, established its corporate responsibility department just two years ago. While the latest initiative might seem like a symbolic drop in the CR bucket, it does have tangible effects. Carbon emissions from Indonesia’s rapid deforestation makes up 8% of global emissions – that’s more than the combined emissions from all the cars, planes, trucks, buses and trains in the US.

“Standing rainforests are not a luxury, they’re a necessity if the world wants to stop climate change,” says Mimma Viglezio, Gucci Group’s executive VP global communications. “Our actions are lowering our own carbon footprint, but we hope that they will also raise awareness inside the fashion industry that it’s possible for our industry to make a difference for rainforests and for the climate.”

Texting in Tanzania helps save lives

Novartis, IBM and Vodafone have partnered with Roll Back Malaria in a pilot programme using texts to monitor stock of anti-malarial drugs in remote areas of Tanzania.

SMS for Life uses a combination of mobile phones, SMS messages and websites to monitor and restock much needed anti-malarial drugs. Automated reminder texts are sent weekly to healthcare staff in Tanzanian facilities who count stock. They send a reply text, which is stored on a website and Google Maps, which evaluates stock levels and sends alerts to stores on stock-outs. This monitoring system has also helped staff control malaria outbreaks.

The five-month pilot, spanning 135 villages and 155 public health facilities has already reaped results. According to Silvio Gabriel, executive vice-president and head of malaria initiatives at Novartis, the number of health facilities with stock-outs in one district was reduced by over 75% in the first three weeks alone. The pilot will be completed shortly, when all partners will evaluate the results, record best practices and determine next steps.

The programme demonstrates not only how something as everyday (and often annoying) as texts can help save lives, but also the value of public-private partnerships. “No single player can be successful alone,” Gabriel says. “We’ve learned that in order to make a meaningful and sustainable impact, governments, international institutions, industry, and civil society must join forces.”

SABMiller extends Ugandan Aids programme

SABMiller is taking care of business – along with its entire value chain. The brewer behind labels Peroni, Grolsch, Carling and Pilsner Urquell has expanded its HIV/Aids programme in Uganda by working with NGOs and local health departments to provide education, voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), and treatment to its entire value chain.

The programme focuses on specific at-risk or vulnerable groups in its value chain, like small scale farmers, truck drivers and bar workers. To date, nearly 5,000 people have been trained, and in 2008 alone over 10,000 condoms were distributed throughout the supply chain. The programme also provides training for those looking after HIV/Aids patients at home, and social and material support to HIV/Aids orphans and at risk children.

“The health of our supply chain and the communities in which we operate is important to us as they supply us with either raw material or services,” says Jenni Gillies, SABMiller group HIV consultant. “We also believe that, through our work in communities, we are able to add value to health, and that this contributes in a significant way to those areas in which we operate.”

The company has shared best practices with other companies, NGOs and governments in Africa, and recently in India and Peru. SABMiller hopes the programme will be extended to other regions of Africa in the coming years.

Pay up says Global Compact

Business participants in the Global Compact have been asked, rather politely, to put their money where their mouth is. Member companies must not only “implement, disclose, and promote” the compact’s ten universal principles, but also make an annual contribution to support its work. The annual contributions are revenue based, so companies with annual sales of $1bn and above are asked to make a “suggested” contribution of at least $10,000. For companies with revenues between $250m and $1bn the amount is $5,000, and so on.

It’s no real shocker that contributions are down. The Levi Strauss Foundation was the sole top dog, contributing in the $10,000-$20,000 bracket. By contrast, in 2008 Broad Air Conditioning, HSBC Holdings plc, Petrobas SA, Royal Dutch Shell plc, and the Coca-Cola Company had all made similar donations. Hopefully 2010 will be the year of the comeback.

Ecosia debuts ‘greenest’ search engine

Powered by Yahoo, Bing, and partnering with the WWF, the new search engine Ecosia touts itself as the greenest search engine on the planet, donating at least 80% of its profits from sponsored links to WWF’s rainforest protection efforts in Brazil’s Amazonas region.

According to Ecosia’s web video, the average person conducts over 1,000 searches a year. And with billions of web users worldwide, sponsored links are huge cash cows for search engines. Ecosia believes there’s a more eco-friendly way to use the profits reaped by search engines, which themselves generate large CO2 emissions due to the massive servers employed to keep us googling, yahooing and binging. With each search on Ecosia, users will save about two square metres of rainforest, roughly 2,000 square metres a year. If just 1% of internet users used Ecosia they would save a rainforest area as big as Switzerland every year. Plus, Ecosia servers run on green electricity, so no CO2 emissions. Get Ecosia-ing!

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