Business opportunities that capitalize on the urge to tread more lightly upon the planet are springing up like mushrooms. So take a look at how big companies will be affecting your future consumption -- and vice-versa. All links after the jump.
One of the articles I abandoned when I left my last job was a piece I was working on regarding the technologies that would meet the demands of rural networking. It's not just ranchers who want faster DSL -- there's a lot of farm technology that now relies on satellite communication for everything from seeding to fertilizing.
I didn't finish the article but I find the demands and considerations of rural life to be a fascinating and underreported subject. Here are some links I wanted to share.
"Private land conservation booms in the U.S." (CSM, Dec 14, 06) -- "Taxes are a key issue driving the phenomenon. With property values
soaring, taxes on ranch land near Austin has soared for family
ranchers. That has left some with the option of selling land to pay
taxes - or lowering taxes by permanently setting the land aside from
"Farmers and conservationists form a rare alliance" (NYT, Dec 27, 06) -- "The farmers see the Nature Conservancy’s willingness to pay them as an
acknowledgment that they should not be expected to sacrifice their land
or their living for wildlife."
"Bridging the rural charity gap" (WSJ, Apr 20, 07) -- "Most foundations are based in urban centers and have a limited picture
of what constitutes "rural," says Karl Stauber, chief executive of
Northwest Area Foundation of St. Paul, Minn. Rural America includes
four types of regions, all of which can have economic needs, he says:
scenic areas that attract tourism, areas within commuting distance of
metropolitan centers, agricultural regions and isolated parts of the
country such as mountains and deserts."
"In rural America, community philanthropy thrives" (CSM, May 24, 07) -- "Enthusiasm for rural giving springs in part from concern for the future of places like Parke County. As manufacturers decamp and the number of farmers dwindles, many communities are searching for ways to survive and prosper."
"Rural US towns – left out by broadband – build their own" (CSM, Jun 7, 07) -- "The quality of Internet service in rural areas often depends on the
size of the local telephone company, experts say. Small independent
utilities, such as telephone companies, are usually quicker to provide
high-speed service than are the telecom giants."
"The Corn Belt gets rich, quietly" (WSJ, Aug 17, 07) -- "If the face of urban wealth is Donald Trump, with his glitzy condo
towers and television shows, then the face of rural wealth belongs to
some anonymous farmer whose battered pickup and tattered clothes belie
a fortune in land, equipment and investments."
"America the Charitable: a Few Surprises" (CSM, Nov 27, 06) breaks down the stats on philanthropic giving in America. The one result that surprised me? "Demand for nonprofit services gets proportionately bigger, not smaller,
as a locality's income rises, a Federal Reserve economist finds."
"Know Where Donations Go" (Raleigh N&O, Dec 2, 06) warns readers that a lot of the time, the charitable promotions that retailers and restaurants run may merely be PR ploys.
"Helping Consumers Rein in the Holiday Excess" (SF Chron, Dec 16, 06) gives you the Earth-friendly take on holiday celebration as filtered through Worldchanging.com. One of the ideas that apparently did not gain traction in 06? "Buy less crap."
"The Giving Gap" (Reason, Dec 16, 06) finds that people who believe that "individuals, not government, offer the best solutions to social ills" tend to be heartier philanthropists than those who favor some forms of governmental intervention. Also related to giving rates: whether or not you're a church-goer.
"In Your Name: Holiday Donations on Behalf of Those with Plenty" (NYT, Dec 21, 06) explores the growing trend of hitting up Heifer.org for your sweetie when you've grown tired of buying them expensive baubles. (The article takes pains to warn that said sweetie had better be tired of receiving said baubles, or else the gift won't go over well.)
"Charity Experts Beg to Differ" (Reason, Dec 22, 06) raises the issue of donor futility: that maybe, people stop donating to philanthropic efforts because they don't perceive their money as being well-spent or effectively deployed toward advancing the cause they back.
This week's collection of links relates to the whole Harry Potter phenomenon -- which I expect will reach its apex at ... TODAY.
Why this minute? Even if a boatload of people are thoroughly spoiled (and thanks a lot for that, FUNKILLERS. What's next, kicking old people for fun and putting the footage on YouTube?), once the spoiler-averse people have the books in their hot little paws, everything will be up for grabs.
I guarantee that at least one person will be like, "I just wasted EIGHT YEARS on this series! I dressed up like Argus Filch at the last six bookstore events for NOTHING! What the -- ? I mean, I can't -- ? No, no, no. Can't speak. Head exploding in outrage."
So let's enjoy the sweet, swiftly fleeting moments of anticipatory promise before the inevitable fanboy/fangirl bitchfest. Have some links!
"A Bid for Harry Potter's Green Fans" (NYT, Jul 7, 07) -- "As part of a growing worldwide campaign that is prompting a shift in
the publishing industry, environmental groups, including the National
Wildlife Federation and Greenpeace, are asking Potter fans in the
United States not to buy Scholastic's editions and instead to order the
new title online from Canada, where the publisher, Raincoast Books, has
printed the book on 100 percent recycled paper."
"Potter Has Limited Effect on Reading Habits" (NYT, Jul 11, 07) -- "As the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show
that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop
significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as
before Harry Potter came along."
"Potter Embargo Could Be Broken" (BBC, Jul 12, 07) -- "Some shops are not expected to keep a written agreement which prevents them selling the book before 21 July."
"TV Cameras Record Rowling's Year" (BBC, Jul 13, 07) -- "The show will give a rare insight into the writer's
personal life and show her finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly
Hallows, the final book in the series."
"Harry Potter 'Wrockers' Conjure Musical Magic" (ABC News, Jul 13, 07) -- "Meet Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys, just two of
nearly 200 Harry Potter-themed bands -- including the Hungarian
Horntails, the Whomping Willows and the Remus Lupins -- who are touring
venues across the country bringing their own style of "wrock" -- that's
wizard rock -- to a generation that has grown up reading about the
magical world of wands, spells and dragons." (Includes link to Draco and the Malfoys' song "My Dad Is Rich.")
"The £10m Charm to Shield Harry's Secret" (The Telegraph, Jul 15, 07) -- "A £10 million security operation featuring an army of guards, satellite
tracking systems and draconian legal contracts has swung into action to
prevent any leak of details of the seventh and final book about the boy
wizard." [Ed note: Read this in conjunction with Time's June 29, 07 "Harry Potter and the Sinister Spoilers."] [Ed note the second: And then wonder if heads are going to roll thanks to all the purported leaks.]
"Harry Potter and the Diminished Returns" (LAT, Jul 16, 07) -- "Amid this avalanche of commerce and pre-publication hype, the book
business is ruefully taking note of a startling incongruity: Very few
U.S. booksellers will be making big money from "Harry Potter and the
"Was the Boy Wizard the Charm that Made Children's Books Fly?" (WaPo, Jul 18, 07) -- "Ask about Harry's effect on the industry and the first thing you'll
hear is that Rowling's books disproved the longstanding belief that
hardcover children's fiction didn't sell. The next is that they've
caused a vast and lucrative expansion of the fantasy category."
In honor of Liz Claiborne, a round-up of writing about fashion, working women and the women who work in fashion ...
"Skirting the Issues" (Time, Jun 5, 95) -- "What would happen if the fashion editors took the initiative and
cleaned up their act, much the way Conda Nast Traveler rewrote the
rules for travel magazines in 1987 by refusing to allow its writers to
accept free trips? Would the editorial content change dramatically?"
Chic Is Where You Find It -- This UCLA archive focuses on the life and work of Bonnie Cashin, a truly remarkable designer and one who should be recognized as a founding mother of the modern American sportswear aesthetic. (Discolsure: I had the chance to interview the collection's archivist Stephanie Day Iverson a few years ago for a piece I did on Cashin.)
"A Samurai in Paris," (New Yorker, Mar 17, 01) -- "[Suzy Menkes'] most distinctive feature is her hair, which she wears with an
odd-looking flip in front: a long demi-pompadour that is coiled
back on the top of her head, creating a dinner-roll-size opening
that you can see through from the side--a style that, combined with
fearless reporting, has inspired people to call her Samurai Suzy."
"A Passion for Cashin" (LA Weekly, Jan 29, 04) -- "To me this is the genius of Cashin: She was the first to design for the
truly modern woman — she wanted to make versatile clothes for people
who were doing things. Her ideas came out of her own travels. She helped women become mobile and free."
"The Designer" (New Yorker, Mar 15, 04) -- " 'This is where I really suffer. Because there are three basic questions
I have to ask myself: Do I like the clothes? Will they sell? And are
they new? They are very different questions, and I can almost never
seem to match them up.' "
"Power Couple" (Fast Company, Mar 05) -- "The real key to understanding the success of Kate Spade, the company, is
to recognize the frisson that comes from the collaboration of the two.
Kate is the muse, the brilliant editor and product designer; Andy is
the big-idea guy, the one who takes the risks, shapes the brand, pushes
"Women's Fashion Revolution Has Yet to Reach Wall Street" (CareerJournal via WSJ, Mar 23, 07) -- "While their male counterparts may sport "business casual" khakis, many women on
Wall Street feel they must toe a careful and conservative line. They often feel
obliged to dress up in order to command authority. These women still struggle
not to be defined by traditionally feminine pastimes, like dressing well."
"Finally, Women's Wear for the Hard-Hat Set" (WSJ, May 17, 07) -- "These women need flame-proof coveralls, rugged carpenter pants, welding
gloves, and hard hats. For years, they've been piecing together
wardrobes from men's wear, hiking gear and Wrangler jeans. They've
suffered inadequate protection from wind, cold and flying sparks, not
to mention ill-fitting clothes."
"The Boss of 9-to-5" (WaPo, Jun 28, 07) -- "Claiborne left her mark on the fashion industry because of her respect,
admiration and empathy for working women. She changed the nature of
department stores, cracked the Fortune 500 and successfully took her
company public in 1981. And she never shied away from the notion that
celebrating personal style is good for business."
It's not all O-thou-guilty-first-world-consumer business around here! Let's look at some of the more interesting retail stories to hit in the past month.
"More Pop for Corporate Museums" (WSJ, May 21, 07) -- "Many such museums were once managed by companies' public relations
staffs, but the newer ones are generally overseen by marketing
executives. "These museums have a lot more to do with brand reputation
management," says [History Factory CEO] Bruce Weindruch."
"Trying to Accelerate Gas-Guzzler Sales" (Marketplace, May 25, 07) -- "The first mother tells her friend she probably won't be able to buy a
similar model in future because, she says, automakers will soon be
forced to build smaller cars."
"Outsmarting Smart Shoppers" (Forbes, Jun 1, 07) -- "he research shows that when strategic consumers are factored into a
theoretical model, lean inventory--or so-called "quick
response"--systems are, on average, 67% more profitable."
"Bean Sees Theme Park on Horizon" (Portland Press Herald, Jun 5, 07) -- "L.L. Bean plans to develop a 700-acre outdoor adventure center in
Freeport, with the goal of creating a national recreation destination.Visitors
might hike, bike, play golf or cross-country ski on the site off Desert
Road, or go kayaking, seal watching or fishing in nearby Casco Bay.
Then they could eat and stay the night on the property."
"McDonald's seeking moms' approval" (ChiTrib, Jun 11, 07) -- "[Moms' Quality Correspondents], in which six moms get
behind-the-scenes access to McDonald's restaurants and blog about what
they see, is another step in a public-relations offensive launched a
year ago to combat a barrage of criticism that paints the world's
largest restaurant chain as a key contributor to the nation's growing
"The Swimsuit Online Vs. Offline Battle" (StorefrontBacktalk, Jun 17, 07) -- "The battle: to approximate the exact look-and-feel of the swimsuit
online (advantage: brick-and-mortar) while minimizing the awkwardness
and embarrassment of the process (advantage: online)." [Ed. comment -- I am telling you, just go to Swim2000 and buy yourself a swimming suit. Problem solved!]
"Can You Be Too Fashionable?" (NYT, Jun 17, 07) -- "By making a long-term commitment to Kohl’s, Ms. Wang may be navigating
even more dangerous waters. Many high-end designers fear that creating
mass collections undermines their prestige among affluent customers, a
worry rooted in the classic example of the downfall of Halston."
"T-Shirt Maker's Style, Drawn From Web Users" (WaPo, Jun 18, 07) -- "From quirky Internet start-ups to industrial titans, companies are
increasingly outsourcing segments of their business to sources in
cyberspace -- much as they began shifting production overseas a
generation earlier. This process, known as crowdsourcing, means that
work once done in-house, from design and research to
information-related services and customer support, can now be farmed
out, tapping new expertise, cutting costs and freeing company employees
to do what they do best."
"How Marketers Hone Their Aim Online" (WSJ, Jun 19, 07) -- ""The future of digital media is less about distribution and more about
understanding the audience's interests and being able to project that
anywhere," says Bill Gossman, president and chief executive officer of
independently owned behavioral-targeting firm Revenue Science."
"Brand-switching Behavior Suggests Supermarket Shoppers Are Indeed Fickle, TNS Retail Forward Reports" (Retail Forward press release, Jun 22, 07) -- "TNS Retail Forward ShopperScape™ analysis found that three-fourths of
shoppers consider different brands and are open to switching brands (Figure 1).
Of the 18 categories analyzed, the three categories most vulnerable to
brand switching behavior include: snack crackers, shredded cheese and
potato chips. The three least vulnerable categories are: pain
relievers, laundry detergent and carbonated beverages."
These are all links that I've found useful and amusing; I hope you do too. Also, the picture's in here because it amuses me as well. I like to imagine that the follow-up issue has the big reveal, where we find out her name is Patricia, and her parents have every reason to worry. What Does 200 Calories Look Like? -- A nice visual guide to portion control
Social Explorer-- I like this site for its interactive population maps -- it's a great example of how to present data trends over a time period.
"How to Run a Meeting Like Google" (BW, Sep 27, 06) -- If you are like me and have the "In and out and nobody gets hurt" attitude toward meetings, this is a primer for pulling that off without causing your coworkers to bitch about you on a blog.
Free online graph paper from Incompetech -- Love this for doing garden layouts and landscape sketches. Speaking of which ... Garden Planner Online -- It is not the most comprehensive landscaping tool you'll ever find, but it's free and you can monkey around in it between work-related tasks. What more could you want?
Whatis.com's Favorite Cheat Sheets -- Find out why everyone and their brother is now sending you IMs like "I can has cheezburger?" or get rid of the damn Clippy without losing your mind! It's all here.
Replate.org -- Stick your leftovers on top of the trash can, not in it.
Kuler -- Try to create different color themes, or just hork someone else's. Handy when you're trying to figure out what colors to paint your house or what color scheme works on your blog.
Black Google -- Can changing the background of a website conserve energy?
LibraryThing's UnSuggester -- You know how you have people in your life who, although you adore them, are sort of oblivious to what you do or don't like? This is like that, only online and more useful because you can take their recommendations and find something more closely approximating your tastes.
Toll House Pie Recipe -- Yeah, perhaps you should not be baking this after getting an eyeful of that 200-calories site.
This week's round-up: it's all connected to environmental reporting somehow
"The 'Green' and Hopefully Clean Produce of China" (Boston Globe, Mar 29, 07) -- "China's unique "green" distinction is a quasi-organic certification
dating back to 1990 which limits the use of chemicals and pesticides
compared to fully organic foods grown without synthetic fertilizers or
"The Political Economy of Carbon Trading" (London Review of Books, Apr 5, 07) -- "Just as economic relations and intimacy aren’t necessarily at odds, we
shouldn’t assume a priori that market pricing is detrimental to
environmental stewardship. Capitalism, after all, has proved itself
rather good at economising on inputs that carry a price, such as
"Scientists Detail Climate Changes Pole to Tropics" (NYT, Apr 7, 07) -- "The report said that given the current buildup of carbon dioxide and
other long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, temperatures and
seas would inevitably rise for decades. The worst effects would be felt
in regions that are mainly poor and already facing dangers from
existing climate and coastal hazards."
"Carbon Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green?" (NYT, Apr 29, 07) -- "Recent counts by Business Week magazine and several environmental
watchdog groups tally the trade in offsets at more than $100 million a
year and growing blazingly fast."
"Turning Lights Down and Profits Up" (Reason, May 2, 07) -- ""Basically it's waste elimination," George David, the chairman and CEO
of United Technologies, said in an interview last week, when asked
about energy conservation. Like a lot of manufacturing companies,
United Technologies finds itself under pressure to cut costs, and
energy is a costly input."
"Feeling Warmth, Subtropical Plants Move North" (NYT, May 3, 07) -- "Warmer temperatures help pests as well as plants, and studies have
shown that weeds and invasive species receive a greater boost from
higher levels of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, than desirable
plants do. Poison ivy becomes more toxic, ragweed dumps more pollen,
and kudzu, the fast-growing vine that has swallowed whole woodlands in
the South, is creeping northward."
"Ten Ways to Green Your Kitchen" (CHOW) -- "Your produce may be organic and local, and you may buy nonpolluting
household cleaners, but odds are your kitchen is still an environmental
"And Gas Saver Makes Three Cars in the Driveway" (NYT, May 25, 07) -- "Hundreds of thousands of consumers aren’t giving up anything to
downsize. Instead, they are simply adding pint-size transportation to
their driveways, parked alongside their S.U.V. or pickup."
"Do Trees Make It Okay to Drive an SUV?" (WaPo, May 28, 07) -- "Some researchers say planting trees _ while a good thing _ is at best a
marginal solution to global warming. Still others decry tree planters
who continue to jet off to Cannes, drive their SUVs or generally fail
to reduce their fuel-hungry lifestyle."
I sometimes wonder whether a company's being covered because what it's doing is newsworthy, or because its name is sure to attract readers. All of the links below had me pondering for a moment before I decided.
"Amazon.com Learns the Old-Fashioned Truth About E-Commerce" (eWeek, Dec 27, 06) -- Here, the online bookseller is used to sex up the column's real premise: "The attraction of e-commerce is the ability to
potentially move tens of millions of SKUs while paying for a miniscule
fraction of the personnel that a similarly sized brick-and-mortar
player would need. That benefit clearly comes with a reduction in the
ability to provide customer service, however, and that customer service
shortfall has derailed more than its fair share of online storefronts."
"At Wal-Mart, Lessons in Self-Help" (NYT, Apr 4, 07) -- The retailing giant offers a "personal sustainability project," which has employees vowing to fine-tune their personal health or environmental footprint. Good model for making healthy, sustainable living available to a lower-paid workforce, or example of corporate intrusion? And what makes this so different from workplaces that already offer fitness incentives or cafeteria meals?
Should for-profit firms be in the business of social change? Should not-for-profits take a lesson from their Wall Street cousins? Read below and make up your mind.
"A Charity with an Unusual Interest in the Bottom Line" (NYT, Nov 13, 06) profiles the Acumen Fund, which invests in groups and companies that tackle poverty-related issues. The Acumen Fund works on the premise that incremental investments help people help themselves to build wealth and improve their own lives.
"The Economist on 'Fair Trade'" (NYT, Dec 16, 06) examines the Economist's argument that "fair trade" good fail to address the real problem with global agriculture: overproduction, which has driven down prices and made it hard for farmers to earn a living. It also offers links to food policy blogs that take umbrage with this argument.
"The 2007 Social Capitalist Awards" (Fast Company, Dec/Jan 06/07) take a look at the ways in which nonprofits like Donors Choose and Grameen Foundation are tackling specific causes with sophisticated IT networks and business models.
"Beyond the Green Corporation" (BW, Jan 29, 07) examines whether or not sexy policies like sustainability and flexible working conditions actually have a positive effect on a business's bottom line. The most interesting thing about this article, to me, was the emerging sentiment among analysts that CEOs are now expected to be more than business heads; they're expected to be statesmen with an awareness of their company's role in a complex global web. (I would argue that good CEOs have always seen themselves this way.)
"Businesses Grow More Socially Conscious" (USAT, Feb 14, 07) gives corporate social responsibility (CSR) the USAT treatment. This article is less nuanced than the BW piece, and swallows the idea that being a responsible corporate citizen is also good business. Still, it's a handy overview.
"'Fair Trade' Food Booming in Britain" (CSM, Mar 13, 07) reports that in the U.K., the idea of "ethical eating" is now firmly in the mainstream. Not touched on in the article: whether "fair trade" is good business, or whether this behavior in the U.K. is typical or atypical of other wealthy Western nations.
"Organics: A Poor Harvest for Wal-Mart" (BW, Apr 12, 07) points out that Wal-Mart's previously well-reported move toward stocking more organic groceries was part of its ploy to woo affluent shoppers into its stores -- and that strategy has not been terribly successful. Another reason organic food is not going down with the Wal-Mart crowd: the majority of shoppers there are focused on price first, provenance second -- a sharp reversal of priorities compared to your average Whole Foods shopper. Finally: Wal-Mart simply can't use its traditional tactics in re: controlling supply and demand. Organic production has its own set of rules. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to see how green business will percolate through the U.S. food supply chain.
(Speaking of the U.S. food supply chain, bookmark the Cornucopia Institute's "Who Owns Organic" to find out how Kraft and Coca-Cola are in this market.)
"Dot-com Lessons for Going Green" (CSM, Apr 12, 07) provides a primer for making sure green-friendly and CSR businesses don't go the way of Pets.com, ChickClick and Feed Magazine.
"In Brooklyn, Hipsters Sip 'Fair Trade' Brews" (NYT, Apr 22, 07) more or less points out that hipsters are not reading the Economist and examining whether pricier fair trade goods actually direct the money to places where it will matter.
And finally, three sites worth visiting regularly: Jon Entine, business ethics writer; the Ethicurean, a weblog that covers the business of sustainable agriculture and ethical food; Sustainable Industries, a business journal focused on making money in green sectors.