Scaling Up: What It Takes to Create Responsible Practices on a Global Scale

The complexity — and potential for good — of global reach.

Companies that are the largest in their industry, such as Unilever or Nike, face a unique challenge each time they make a move in sustainability. Should they use their scale to change their industry globally for the greater good, or should they prioritize quick wins, creating aspirational, sustainability-based fame for their products?

Think of Starbucks and disposable coffee cups. For years they tried to chip away at the issue of waste on their own, but they ground to a halt at the point where they were leading the industry and couldn’t move the needle any further than 10 percent post-consumer recycled content. But in 2008, they took the issue to the industry. Multiple “Cup Summits” took the cup from something they led alone on to something that transformed the pulp and paper, packaging, and catering industries and even re-imagined the way waste streams functioned globally. It took years to change the fundamental ways food packaging is produced and taken back into the waste stream, and today, Starbucks is even going beyond recycled content, targeting 100 percent reusable or recyclable cups by 2015 and working in partnership with competitors like Tim Horton’s. What started as a Starbucks project ended up bigger than the industry.

Why am I telling you about recycled coffee cups? The reason is goose down, the material that fills many of our comforters, jackets, sleeping bags and pillows. In the past few years we’ve seen rising concern over where down comes from. When we dug into this, we saw many disturbing vulnerabilities — practices like force-feeding (“gavage” for foie gras) and a potential for live plucking in the related food industry. We also saw that in many cases, down used in products could not be traced back to its origin.

Other companies began to pay attention to these types of issues, too. IKEA began making down alternatives. Gap and Zara said goodbye to angora — which was going through a similar moment of transparency. However, due in part to limited regulations on animal welfare and food-down supply chain complexities, the industry struggled to find a way to source responsible materials at scale. Some companies have tried to develop ways to mitigate risks and mistreatment of animals; however, these approaches have typically only been applicable to a single company’s own supply chain or specific supply chain type. Good for one brand — not great for all.

So we faced a choice: Do we ensure The North Face brand’s down is from responsible sources, or do we take on the challenge as a leader and bring our industry — and other industries — along with us? Going it alone would have been the easier choice.

While many people know The North Face for its jackets and gear, not as many know the story behind the name. The north face of a mountain (in the northern hemisphere) is the most formidable route to climb. Taking the toughest route means forging a path that might be more challenging — you might have to lead a new route — but this is the legacy and the company culture that helped support us in establishing a standard that brings the whole industry along — creating a source of responsible down not just for our company, but building an economically viable, global market for responsible down. It is still a new path that will continue to change and adapt.

To develop the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), we worked with farmers, collectors and processors across Eastern Europe and Asia to create what is today the largest global, publicly available certification system for the responsible sourcing of down that addresses animal welfare and material traceability. From the outset, we knew that we needed help creating a quality standard that could be applied globally and used by anyone. We worked with several partners, including the animal welfare group FOUR PAWS, down suppliers like Allied Feather & Down and Downlite, third party, independent auditor Control Union, and certification standards experts at Textile Exchange, which now owns and governs the standard on behalf of the industry. We even worked with our competitors to develop a standard the entire industry could access.

For us, responsible down doesn’t mean only prohibiting animal mistreatment such as force-feeding and live-plucking. We took a holistic approach by including requirements and guidelines on things like food and water quality, housing, stock density and outdoor access, animal hygiene, and pest and predator control in the standard. To ensure validation of these practices, the standard also includes strict requirements to document the traceability of the down from its origination through to the final product.

We set a goal of 30 percent of all of the down that goes into our fall 2015 products to be RDS-certified material, including all of our technical Summit Series products and all products we sell in Europe. Thirty percent is an aggressive goal given the volume of down we use and the infancy of the standard. However, widespread adoption of the standard within the down supply chain has yielded enough certified down for us to exceed our 30 percent goal.

Why are we sticking with 30 percent? This is actually a crucial strategy for building a global market for certified down. By sharing the supply of certified down with others in the apparel, bedding and hospitality industries, a more diversified and stable market for responsible down can take root.

Making change at a large organization can be tough. But when your efforts can help improve the welfare of animals across an entire global supply chain, it can be worth every obstacle on the “hardest side of the mountain.”

Matson Navigation Company, Inc. Pleads Guilty To Criminal Charges In Molasses Spill

HONOLULU (AP) — A shipping company pleaded guilty plea Friday to criminal charges from a 1,400-ton molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor that killed more than 26,000 fish and other marine life, but a federal judge said he wants to examine the legality of $600,000 in community service payments the company has agreed to pay.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi accepted the plea from Matson Navigation Company Inc. to two misdemeanor charges for illegally releasing the molasses last year. The company and federal prosecutors wanted to proceed immediately with sentencing, with both sides agreeing Matson would pay a $400,000 fine and give $600,000 to environmental organizations.

But Puglisi said he has concerns because the $600,000 community service payment is higher than the maximum statutory fine. Each count carries a maximum fine of $200,000, and Matson has agreed to pay $400,000 for both.

Matson said in a statement earlier this week that as part of a plea agreement, the company would pay $300,000 to the Waikiki Aquarium to support coral programs and invasive algae clean-ups, and another $300,000 to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

The deal was still subject to court approval.

Puglisi called the community service payments “laudable” and said it’s a common practice in many environmental cases. But he said it’s usually done as a condition of probation. Without Matson serving probation, it wouldn’t be appropriate to include the payments, the judge said.

Puglisi ordered a pre-sentence report to look into the issue, saying, “I want to make sure this … is permissible under the law.” He set sentencing for Jan. 29.

Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at .

Cleaning Crews Move In After Ebola Diagnosed In New York

NEW YORK — As the largest U.S. city grapples with its first case of Ebola, doctors, nurses, and Health Department officials have leapt to the forefront of a massive response effort.

But there’s another, unlikely crew of professionals fighting the virus: The cleaners.

From Craig Spencer’s Harlem apartment to a bowling alley in Brooklyn, cleaning crews are being called in to sanitize any lingering hazard from the Ebola virus — and to assuage public fears about visiting establishments patronized by the Doctors Without Borders physician.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Ebola virus only can be transmitted by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with the virus, or objects like needles that have been contaminated.

Investigators from New York City’s Health Department have determined that there is no risk of infection at places that Spencer visited, from a meatball shop in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood to a bowling alley in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Spencer is said to have reported his condition almost immediately after discovering that he had a fever on Thursday morning.

But a state Health Department spokesman said that out of “an abundance of caution,” a cleaning crew had been dispatched to Spencer’s apartment. For hours on Friday, a 10-person crew from the Bio Recovery Corp. labored in heavy isolation suits to clean it.

The company’s employees, all hazardous materials professionals, usually have the unpleasant job of cleaning up crime scenes. But on Friday, they were pressed into the arguably even more challenging work of responding to an infectious disease.

They threw out bed linens, towels, toiletries, food in the fridge and garbage, and wiped down hard, frequently touched surfaces, said the Health Department spokesman.

Robert Walters, a company technician wearing wraparound shades, spoke to a few reporters outside the building. He said the technicians were “highly trained” and have been preparing specifically for an Ebola cleanup in recent weeks.

“We’ve been waiting for this day,” said Walters.

City Councilman Mark Levine, who represents the area, said he entered the building and spoke to the workers as they set up their equipment.

“These guys are pros. They’ve dealt with much worse than this, practically on a daily basis,” Levine said.

At one point in the afternoon, Levine was overheard making calls on his cellphone, trying to find a company that would incinerate the contaminated materials from the apartment. Apparently, the companies that usually perform this sort of task were refusing to take the job.

“It’s a highly specialized task,” Levine explained to HuffPost. The councilman’s chief of staff did not immediately respond to an email asking whether an incinerator had been found.

From all appearances, the cleanup itself was going smoothly. Lunch, however, presented a challenge. “Who’s going to let us into their restaurant?” one of the workers asked the others as they walked away from the building, still wearing shirts emblazoned with biohazard symbols. They ended up going into a Subway sandwich shop.

A borough away, at the Gutter bowling alley in Brooklyn, owner Todd Powers was waiting on a private cleaning crew of his own before reopening his business.

Spencer visited the alley on Wednesday night, before he was aware that he had contracted Ebola. City health officials cleared the business to reopen, saying they believe there was no risk Spencer left any bodily fluids there, and no risk to other patrons. Still, Powers decided to hire cleaners.

“Out of an over-abundance of caution, they decided to close the place to allow cleaning to take place,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “They have already received a clean bill of health.”

Adams was unable to name the company contracted to clean the Gutter, but said the establishment would reopen by Friday night or Saturday.

“We would be bowling right now if the place was open,” Adams said.

Civilization Beyond Earth Review: An excellent ride that doesn’t quite get you to Alpha Centauri

As a long-time fanatic of the Civilization series, winning a science victory has always seemed like the least satisfying ending to me. After thousands of years expanding across the globe, writing the history of humankind and clashing with other civilizations, you build the greatest technological feat the species has ever known and blast your citizens off to this great adventure to colonize a new world.

And then you close the game.

No idea what happens to them when they reach the stars. If they succeeded. If they were happy. It always felt like getting absorbed into an epic novel, only the throw it into the ocean once you get halfway through.

Civilization: Beyond Earth allows you to read that last half and find out what happened when your people after they landed on their new home. In my case, it usually ended in public health crises and being eaten by giant armoured worms.

Just like antagonizing massive alien wildlife, shooting for the stars with a Civilization game strikes me as a somewhat dangerous move for developer Firaxis. It automatically invites one to compare Beyond Earth to Alpha Centauri, the amazing “Civilization in space” classic that the company released in 1999. It is never easy to have your new work compared to one of the greatest games ever made and those looking for Alpha Centauri 2 are going to be disappointed. While Beyond Earth does have more customization, a stronger narrative and is more open-ended than previous Civ games, it is no where as deep at AC was. Civilization V is very much in its DNA.

It has the same hexagon-based tile system. Same lack of unit stacking. Gold might be replaced by energy and happiness with health, but at first glance, but even casual fans of the last game will instantly be comfortable with the basics. (The game’s advice-giving AI can even has a setting for people who have played Civ 5.)

Not to say that there aren’t differences. The first big change is the setup screen. Instead of choosing a civilization with set bonuses, you’ll go through a series of decisions to craft your new colony. First you’ll have to pick your sponsor culture, which are all somewhat-boring unions of existing countries.  Then it is down to what supplies you take on board, and whether you fill your colony ship with engineers, scientists, artists or the like. In the end, this means you have the ability to customize your civilization, and its bonuses, right from the start. There’s a certain joy in filling up a space ship with high-tech worker robots, and then imagining it being crewed by slam poets and and stage magicians.

That customization is a good thing because I found BE’s opening-game to be more challenging than in Civ games past. Alien lifeforms swarm all over the odd, colourful landscape of your new home planet. Unlike Earth’s barbarians, armed only with flimsy axes and hurtful words, some of the alien units are legitimately frightening and nearly impossible to deal with early-game units. In my first game, four of my soldier units got turned into worm food before I wrote off half the continent as uninhabitable (until I researched fighter jets).

Combine angry xenomorph wildlife with with a toxic fog that damages your units and heals alien ones (at least until you research ways to deal with it), and you get the real feeling of an isolated colony struggling to carve out a foothold on a hostile alien world. Losing scouts and outposts to non-players now feels like an actual danger

One of the biggest changes in Beyond Earth is the Affinity system. Players can led their newly-transplanted civilization down the path of the ideologies: Harmony, which embraces the new ecosystem; Purity, which seeks to change it into a carbon copy of Earth; and Supremacy, which embraces anything to “better” the human species. Players get experience in each of these three affinities by researching associated technologies or completing one of the many quests offered.

At first, affinity seems like a minor distraction. But it soon reveals itself to be a crucial part of the game. It is the basis for upgrading your units, which are made more powerful and more specialized when you gain affinity points. As well, three of the game’s five victory goals require the player to be heavily invested in one of the three ideologies. That, combined with the fact that the fully-upgraded, affinity-specific military units are incredibly powerful, means it is probably better to focus on one path instead of dabbling a bit in all three.

The tech tree is another massive departure, and the thing that most calls back to the days of Alpha Centauri. Instead of the linear research of previous Civ games, Beyond Earth’s tech is laid out in an intimidating web, with tech “branches and leaves.” It makes your civilization’s advancement a lot more open-ended, replacing the false choices of Civ 5 with actual decisions on how to proceed. Instead of all players reaching the same destination slightly diverging paths, you can grow your civilization in a completely different direction from your opponents.

On balance, that’s a good thing, and means that you won’t be always making the same choices through multiple playthroughs. However, it can also make thing feel a little directionless, making it hard to decide what your next move will be. It is easy for me to understand what benefits will come if I research gunpowder in Civ 5. The advantages of getting the guys in the lab to investigate Tissue Engineering are a little less intuitive. What great advances have my people been missing out on, running around with non-engineered tissues like Neanderthals?

It also makes it a lot more difficult to gauge how far along your opponents are when it comes to winning the game. A couple times, I was surprised to learn a civilization was a heartbeat away from taking the game because of the direction they took with research. Both of these issues will likely get easier after more experience with the game.

The affinity system and wide-open tech tree help ease one of the more intangible issues with Beyond Earth.  Moving the series from past earth to a new futuristic planet loses some of the fun of the Civ series. A generic sci-fi theme isn’t just as fun as an alt-history earth of Civ 5, where Aztec airstrikes could decimate Japanese oilfields.

The quests and the affinities allowed me to inject a much-needed narrative into the thin futuristic world. My first civilization started out as a collection of randomly-named outposts, but by the end game, the quests I chose turned it into a nation of nanobot-infused zealots and former test subjects that rode giant bugs into battle, only to be crushed under the giant robot heel of our oppressive neighbours.

Some of the game’s other ideas are interesting, but don’t really work as well as the could. The ability to send satellites up into orbit to provide benefits on the map is an interesting one, but it is confusing to get one’s head around. As well, since the orbital layer is somewhat hidden and the advantages are minor, it is an easy part of the game to completely forget.

In the end, Beyond Earth is a hard beast to get a handle on. Taken by itself, it is a very good game, one that encourages the same “one more turn” addiction that the series is famous for. But at its core, it isn’t terribly different from Civ 5 and its expansions.

It is certainly more polished than Civ 5 was when it was released, and feels much more like a finished game, where as the predecessor was merely alright until it was elevated by its expansions. If you’re new to the series, or a Civ 5 fan who is looking for new mechanics and a new theme to freshen things up, it is certainly worth picking up. I will certainly keep playing it and enjoying the experience.

But for anyone who was hoping for a radical departure from the previous games or a return to the world of Alpha Centauri is advised to continue searching the stars.

Google VP Alan Eustace Leaps From Stratosphere, Beats Felix Baumgartner’s Record Jump

That’s one giant leap!

Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at Google, set a new world record today by completing the highest-altitude free fall yet–parachuting from 135,908 feet (or 25 miles) above Earth.

The record was previously held by daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner, who leaped from 24 miles above Earth in October 2012.

To put that in perspective, scientists say you officially enter space at 73 miles above Earth’s surface. That’s pretty high up–and Eustace was about a third of the way there.

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Eustace gets lifted to his peak altitude of 135,908 feet via a high-altitude ballooning system.

Eustace reaches a peak speed of 822 miles per hour during his dive.

Eustace lands after a 4 1/2-minute free fall, the AP reported.

“It was amazing,” Eustace told The New York Times. “It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.”

A high-altitude, helium-filled balloon from Paragon Space Development Corp. and its Stratospheric Explorer (StratEx) team lifted Eustace to his peak altitude, according to a written statement from the company. Eustace wore a self-contained spacesuit as he cut himself loose from the balloon with the help of a small explosive device, and dove toward Earth at a peak speed of 822 miles per hour, the Times reported.

Jim Hayhurst of the U.S. Parachute Association was the jump’s official observer, the Associated Press reported. He told the AP that the team on the ground could hear the sonic boom as Eustace broke through the speed of sound barrier.

Eustace’s supersonic jump came as a big surprise since he had been secretly planning the dive with Paragon Space Development Corp. and its team. The company, which specializes in extreme environmental control systems, initiated the project with Eustace and worked with him to develop, build and manage the system used during the incredible leap.

The near-space exploration company World View Enterprises has since acquired this ballooning technology, Wired reported, for future space travel and research flights.

near space balloon

Why Humble, Empathic Business Leaders Are More Successful

It’s increasingly evident that business leaders who are capable of experiencing and demonstrating empathy, compassion, and humility have greater success. Research as well as direct business experience confirms this. One recent example is a study of 1500 leaders and their employees. It found that humble leaders who have increased self-awareness and insight experience greater commitment and performance from their employees.

According to the research findings, “Leaders with a strong self-insight demonstrate a good understanding of their own needs, emotions, abilities and behavior. On top of that, they are proactive in the face of challenges.” The study found that when employees experience this type of leadership, it has a positive effect, and that’s especially true when the leader is humble.

More broadly, research in recent years indicates that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and it can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. These capacities reflect letting go of ego-driven attitudes and behavior; and they enhance positive, effective relationships. We are now seeing evidence that they are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage. For example, billionaire founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson has pointed out that “In business… companies that want to survive…are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Today’s organizations require what the New York Times columnist Adam Bryant has described as a “quick and nimble” management culture. This, in turn, requires leaders to let go of focusing so much on themselves; to let go of the “alpha male” role, as Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group has called it. Then, they are more able to engage with diverse employees, and from a more humble perspective. Vielmetter pointed out that

The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who gives direction to everybody and sets the pace, whom everybody follows because this person is so smart and intelligent and clever -this time is over. We need a new kind of leader who focuses much more on relationships and understands that leadership is not about himself…who knows he needs to listen to other people…to be intellectually curious and emotionally open…(and) needs empathy to do the job.

These capacities are also evident in a study from Catalyst, described in Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib’s Harvard Business Review Blog. It found that when employees observed diminished ego in their managers — such as humbleness and empowering workers — they reported being more innovative and engaged; more likely to suggest new product ideas and ways of doing work better.

In a global marketplace where problems are increasingly complex, no one person will ever have all the answers. As Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says, “Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” In fact, Bock says that humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires. “Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock–it’s “…intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

That’s consistent with the Catalyst study, which shows that altruism makes employees more innovative and engaged – especially when working with employees from diverse backgrounds, which is increasingly common. In fact, it found that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague — all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.

In a similar vein, Richard Branson stresses the importance of seeking and supporting a wide, diverse range of people; and, being open to input and potential solutions through active listening: “Over more than 40 years of building our businesses at the Virgin Group, (we have seen) that employing people from different backgrounds and who have various skills, viewpoints and personalities will help you to spot opportunities, anticipate problems and come up with original solutions before your competitors do.”

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Progressive Development, and writes its blog, Progressive Impact. For more about him on The Huffington Post, click here.