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February 11, 2010

I'm Cold Today...So There's No Global Warming

What do you call a group that uses large snowstorms to deride the scientific evidence for climate change? Fox News I guess.

The absurdity of pointing out that there's snow in the winter -- in one part of the world mind you -- and using that to say that climate change is a hoax is breathtaking.

Especially when, at the same time, Vancouver is shipping in snow for the Olympics...you see, some places get more snow, some get less. That's weather, not climate.

Anyway, if you don't laugh, you cry. Only comedy can do justice to this insane line of logic.

The Daily Show points out that it's hot in Australia...


...and Colbert make the logical extension that when it's dark, the sun must have been destroyed.



April 27, 2011

Birther, Climate Denier...Same Difference

Well, the great national nightmare is over. President Obama released his long-form birth certificate on Thursday. This settles the issue...again. I could go on about how depressing it is that it all came to this.

But my point in this quick blog is just to say that the vigorous discussion about how the media covered this topic sounded eerily familiar to me. For example, here's ABC's Jake Tapper quoted in a Huffington Post story...

“One of the biggest problems is how many reporters have treated this as if it’s a subject for debate and not just a lie,” Tapper said in an interview.

“Instead of covering this the same way you would cover someone saying that the earth is flat -- just a demonstrable untruth -- too many reporters and anchors have allowed this to become ‘critics say X,’” Tapper continued.

Just imagine if Tapper were discussing how the media covers climate change? Wouldn't it ring true? Granted, global climate models are infinitely more complicated than, say, a Certificate of Live Birth. But doesn't that make clarity from the press about how solid the data is -- and how broad the scientific consensus is -- even more important. When the media "debates" whether it's actually getting hotter over the last century -- a fact -- it really makes it hard to discuss more complicated topics.

And when they place thousands of scientists on one side and equate their views with basically a paid spokesperson for a think tank or particular industry on the other, they propagate a lie.

It was good to see a bit of media gut-checking going on today. We do have serious problems (and no, the budget isn't the only one), and we need focus and fact-based discussions. Sustainability is hard enough without false equivalence and lazy journalism mucking up the works.

In my work, I always say it doesn't matter whether you believe in climate change or not. The things businesses and our country would do to tackle carbon are things they should do anyway for both profitability and competitiveness. But not debating climate science all the time doesn't mean we have to accept falsehoods either.

November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy=Climate Change? Some big names are believing it.

[Note: With power out and limited connectivity, I've gotten behind on re-posting blogs that I've written elsewhere like HBR ...I'll put a few in a row up over the next few business days.]

This is just a quick blog to recognize that the devastation from Hurricane Sandy has had one important silver lining -- many mainstream voices, especially in the business community, seem to be waking up to the connection between extreme weather and climate change. (My take on this is on my Harvard Business Review Blog here, and I'll post it here next week.)

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Two news items have given me real hope.

1) Businessweek blares on its cover, "It's Global Warming, Stupid"
After the required caveat that no single storm is "caused" by something as long-term as climate change, the business magazine declares, "Clarity, however, is not beyond reach" and explores how scientists are increasingly willing to draw the connection. Bravo Businessweek.

2) Mayor Bloomberg's titles his endorsement of President Obama, "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change."

In his own words, "The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast -- in lost lives, lost homes and lost business -- brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief...Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week’s devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action."

Bloomberg then cites Obama's work on fuel-efficiency and increased controls on mercury emissions which restricts coal burning...and highlights how Romney has reversed himself on climate change since his days as Governor.

This is clearly noteworthy that a well-respected moderate has made climate change the deciding factor in his vote for President, especially since the topic did not come up in the debates for the first time since 1984.

The media, the business world, politicians...all are waking up to the deep connections that today's events have to longer-term trends and the actions we all take. I have hope that we will mobilize fast enough now.

(Sign up for Andrew Winston's blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @GreenAdvantage)

April 17, 2017

Pepsi, United, and the Speed of Corporate Shame

(The last few weeks have been eventful in the realm of public corporate debacles and foot-in-mouth disease. This article from last week got some good commentary on the HBR site, much of it about whether business schools are teaching people to be ethical and humane. In this piece I look at Pepsi and United, but to be clear, these situations are very different in intention and speed of response to a public problem. What connects them in my mind is primarily about the three themes in this article -- speed of transparency, expectations of customers and the world, and internal culture.)

United Airlines has leapt into a brand disaster of mythic proportions. In a scandal that’s still evolving quickly, the company’s employees had Chicago Department of Aviation officers forcefully remove a passenger — a paying customer sitting in his seat — from an overbooked flight. Around the world, people watched a video of the bloodied man being dragged down the aisle. The company’s stock lost hundreds of millions of market cap , but the damage to the brand (and future sales) may be far higher.

The incident, along with some other recent brand missteps, highlight some basic realities about the world companies operate in today. Three themes seem critical.

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1. The speed of shame is as fast (and as ruthless) as the internet. When will companies realize that everyone now has a video camera on them, and that they can broadcast live on Facebook within minutes? People can now destroy brand trust at the speed of light, with consequences that are far-reaching. For example, in China, a critical growth market for the airlines, the disturbing passenger-shot video story has gone super-viral (likely in part because the passenger manhandled by United was Asian). It was the number one topic on Weibo , China’s version of Twitter, with 100 million views. And while it’s way too early to predict the financial damage in that country or more broadly, the brand will likely keep taking hits for a while — other stories about being mistreated by United are getting airtime and countless people are pledging to stop flying United.

Yet United is far from the only company to experience instantaneous negative reactions recently. Last week, PepsiCo ran — and then quickly pulled — an advertisement showing the model Kendall Jenner breaking through a line of protesters (who looked more like they were at a dance party) to hand a Pepsi to a police officer. Jenner’s offering of 12-ounces of peace and love seemingly solves all of society’s tensions. The backlash, especially from those who saw a jarringly off-note take on Black Lives Matter protests, was justified — and unbelievably fast. Has there ever been a major ad that debuted and was pulled in less than 24 hours?

In both cases, word spread partly though dark humor, which raced around Twitter, Facebook, and newscasts, including a map of a United plane with a section labeled “Fight Club.” And Saturday Night Live’s brilliant take on Pepsi captured the essence of what was likely a well-intentioned effort. SNL gave us an imagined conversation between the ad’s creator and his family (unseen on the other end of a phone call, like an old-school Bob Newhart routine). His dawning realization that he’s made a big mistake is comedy gold. Humor plays a big role in stories going viral and, in cases like these, it may help people cope with upsetting images. But it doesn’t do the brands any favors.

2. Everyone expects an apology — and a real one. Pepsi got this right. The company acted quickly and owned the error . As a spokesperson said, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

United, on the other hand, has had a rough couple of days. The first statement from Oscar Munoz, the United CEO, was just bizarre, focusing on his employees while also using an awful euphemism for violently pulling someone off a plane: “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

What’s different today is that everyone can feel personally engaged in what your company does to anyone. In Munoz’ first statement, he went on to say, “we are reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and resolve this situation.” That’s fine, but CEOs today need to “reach out” to the public, too. At the very least every passenger on that plane deserves some direct contact, but now millions of others want an explanation as well. In our social media dominated world, everybody has an opinion and feels like they’re owed something.

Munoz tried to make up for his first statement with numerous public apologies since — and they’re much better – but the reality is that the first one sticks and is a very public window into your company’s priorities and soul.

3. Employees must feel safe and empowered to speak up. The biggest question I (and many others) have about these recent brand disasters is this: Why didn’t anyone in these companies say something before things got out of hand? At Pepsi, there must have been employees – in the marketing meetings, on the set, or even in the ad agency – who felt like the unseen family members in the SNL skit. Many knew the ad was tone-deaf. If they believed they were expected to go beyond following rules and maximizing performance, United employees would have stepped in to de-escalate the situation once they realized something was going horribly wrong on that flight.

Of course, intentions do matter. In Pepsi’s case, the ad was likely well-meaning, so chastised execs and the brand will probably recover. United is in a radically different situation. As with the Wells Fargo and VW scandals before it, the problem here is a systematic set of expectations and rules, set from the top, that lead to very bad (and now public) behavior.

Companies need to think carefully about their policies and their crisis communications, so they can quickly move from a defensive crouch to honest, heart-felt apologies — and to real changes in how they operate. But most importantly, they need to assess whether their cultures allow their own employees the power and safety to stand in front of the train of fast-moving stupidity and say, “You shall not pass!” And they need to have executives who will listen to them.

The big takeaway here is that expectations about how companies operate — and their very role in society — are rising fast. Pepsi clearly had some inkling of this; just think about why the company wanted to say something about justice and understanding, even if it did it poorly. United (and its airline peers) had better wake up fast to this new reality as well.

All companies now operate in a world that’s closely watching their policies, actions, and how they handle themselves when things go wrong. When literally anyone can simultaneously act as a customer, a protester, a critic, and a muckraking reporter with a video camera, executives have zero room for error.

(This post first appeared in Harvard Business Review.

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