BF Staff Archives


60 Seconds with Alex Brigham, Executive Director, Ethisphere Institute

60 Seconds with Alex Brigham, Executive Director, Ethisphere Institute

BF: What factors or qualities are considered paramount for the Ethisphere Institute to designate a company as ethical? AB: More than 70 criteria make up a company’s Ethics Quotient score. Critical factors include: 1. How robust is the corporate compliance and ethics program? Examples include the quality of its code of ethics and related     ethics training and communication; effectiveness reporting and whistleblower systems; and tone from the top. 2. Environmental impact, where criteria may vary by industry; sustainability initiatives, reporting and transparency. 3. Industry leadership in ethics, citizenship and responsibility; we are looking for standard setters and early adopters versus     followers. 4. Clean legal history, or in case of past violations, evidence of adequate response and significant efforts made to avoid future     infractions. BF: Do any specific industries have large numbers of ethical companies? AB: Consumer products and food industries traditionally have been topping the charts for corporate ethics and citizenship, perhaps due to consumer and peer- pressure factors. Some companies were on the forefront of responsible business long before it became an accepted practice. For example, Kellogg’s pioneered recycled packaging in 1906. The technology sector, including computer and electronics manufacturers, software developers, Internet and telecom companies, also is noteworthy for a large number of ethical companies. Many of them are relatively young companies, whose cultures have been shaped or influenced by their founders, many of whom are known supporters of responsible business practices. BF: How can a company with a tight budget improve its ethical standing? AB: Companies should treat spending on ethics as investments into brand equity versus cost to be cut. Many pragmatic steps can be taken without breaking the bank. The cost of creating a best practice code of ethics and related training and communication program is miniscule compared to what some companies spend on brand advertising. While publishing glossy citizenship reports can be expensive, some of them really disappoint by the lack of hard facts. Greater transparency and disclosure don’t really require extra budgets; they require an executive will. Likewise, strong tone from the top needs engaged, visible and committed executives. Finally, walk the talk. World’s Most Ethical Companies The Ethisphere Institute, a think tank dedicated to the best practices in business ethics, recently announced a list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. Entries came from more than 100 countries and 35 industries, and 99 companies made the final cut. A sample of honorees from the United States include: Honeywell International, The Aerospace Corporation, Nike, Patagonia, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, Oracle Corporation, Symantec, Mattel, General Electric, […]



Worst, er, Best Idea of the Week: No Blagojevich!

Worst, er, Best Idea of the Week: No Blagojevich!

Former Illinois governor and current punchline, Rod Blagojevich, was my surefire pick for Worst Idea of the Week. Yes, I know–his despicable, profanity-laden scandal regarding the sale of President Obama’s former Senate seat dominated headlines several months ago. But this week Blagojevich returned to the esteemed pages of, uh, Entertainment Weekly as a potential contender for NBC’s upcoming reality bomb, I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here (a show popularized in Britain that strands D-list celebrities in a remote location while TV viewers (if there are any) vote on which people to keep around until a winner is announced.) Blagojevich is a casting faux pas on so many levels. Firstly, I consider Blah Blah Blago to be infamous, not famous–certainly not a celebrity! (His hair style definitely didn’t set any style trends.) But more importantly, what kind of message are we sending by letting a recently impeached, disgraced governor earn and compete for cash (reportedly, $80,000 per week!) on TV? Sure, he has the right to but… …actually, breaking news: a judge has denied Blagojevich the opportunity to jet off to a Costa Rican jungle with other fame-starved no-names like Geraldo Rivera for I’m a Celebrity! U.S. District Judge James Zagel just turned down the request by Blagojevich, according to reports in Chicago newspapers. “I don’t think this defendant in all honesty…fully understands the position he finds himself in,” Zagel said. Blagojevich still faces federal corruption charges. Zagel believes it to be a bad idea to modify the terms of Blagojevich’s bail to allow him to travel to Central America. He said the governor should stay in the U.S. and review the government evidence against him so he will be better able to understand the jeopardy he is in. Previously, Blagojevich hinted that his participation in the reality show was a bit dubious. “It’s not my first choice, but it’s a living,” he said. Better than auctioneer of Senate seats, I wonder? Therefore, the best idea of the week goes to U.S. Judge Zagel for denying Illinois’ ill-minded Blago a first-class ticket to beautiful Costa Rica and dirty reality TV cash.




TARP cop turns up heat on Treasury chief

TARP cop turns up heat on Treasury chief

Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general appointed by President Bush in November to oversee the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, issued a scathing 250-page report today that ripped the Treasury Department’s plans to bail out the nation’s banks. Barofsky told Congress that what began as a $700-billion bailout last fall has evolved into a $3-trillion bonanza that is being administered with little oversight and almost no information about what the banks are doing with the taxpayer funds they are receiving. Barofsky also warned that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s plan to have the government fund $1-trillion in ”partnerships” with private investors to take a mountain of toxic assets off the books of major banks is ”inherently vulnerable to fraud and should not be started without stronger safeguards.” According to a report in today’s New York Times, Barofsky was particularly critical of the Treasury Department’s refusal to demand detailed information from banks and other financial institutions about what they are doing with the money they receive from the government. ”The American people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used,” the federal watchdog stated in his report, the second he has issued since his appointment to the post. Barofsky added that Treasury officials are ”jeopardizing the credibility of their efforts” by not requiring more transparency from the banking industry regarding its use of government bailout bucks. The inspector general raised several red flags concerning Geithner’s scheme—known as TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility)—to jump-start an auction of toxic mortgage-backed securities with a $100-billion down-payment from Treasury, to be followed with up to $1-trillion in low-interest ”loans” to private investors from the Federal Reserve. The Fed recently increased the money supply by $1 trillion to prepare for this program. Barofsky said Geithner’s plan poses ”significant fraud risks” because rather than buy up the toxic assets directly, the government intends to loan money to investors without examining the poorly documented mortgage-backed securities, relying instead on the evaluation of the major credit rating agencies who not only failed to warn against the dangers of sub-prime mortgages, but actually awarded toxic assets their prized triple-A ratings. ”Credit ratings, cited as one of the primary credit protections in TALF as currently configured, have been proven to be of questionable value,” Barofsky’s report stated. ”The wholesale failure of the credit rating agencies to rate adequately such securities is at the heart of the securitization market collapse, if not the primary cause of the credit crisis.” Barofsky noted that, under Geithner’s plan, private investors […]


Green Giant

Green Giant

The Empire State Building soon will stand as a model for retrofitting existing structures for environmental sustainability. Five leading consulting, design, non-profit and construction partners—including the Clinton Climate Initiative, Rocky Mountain Institute, Johnson Controls Inc., and Jones Lang LaSalle—are undertaking a $20 million project that aims to reduce energy use by 38 percent and energy costs by $4.4 million annually at New York’s tallest building. The ”green” upgrade, part of a $500-million overhaul of the landmark skyscraper in midtown Manhattan, also will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the building by an estimated 105,000 metric tons during the next 15 years, with much of the project funded through energy and operational savings. Energy-efficiency improvements will include: — Refurbish all 6,500 thermopane glass windows in the 102-story structure. Existing glass and sashes will be incorporated to create triple-glazed insulated panels. — Apply insulation behind radiators. This will reduce heat loss and heat the building perimeter more efficiently. — Update lighting designs and add controls that mix lighting with available natural light. — Install power-saving plug load occupancy sensors. — Retrofit chillers and ventilation controls to improve efficiency, air quality and comfort. — Give each tenant individualized, Web-based power usage systems. Work already has commenced on the environmental sustainability project at the world’s most famous office building, and building systems work is slated to be completed by year-end 2010. The balance of the work in tenant spaces should be concluded by end of 2013. Work that is scheduled to be completed within 18 months will result in more than 50 percent of the projected energy savings. The project aims to prove the viability for energy efficiency retrofit projects to dramatically increase a large building’s energy efficiency and reduce its overall carbon output with sensible payback periods and enhanced profitability. At the end of the project definition process, the project team analyzed steps to be taken towards sustainability within the framework of the existing USGBC LEED rating system. Internal calculations show that the Empire State Building will be able to qualify for GOLD certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Existing Buildings, and ownership intends to pursue such certification. The Clinton Climate Initiative, created by the non-profit foundation headed by former President Bill Clinton, brought the project coalition together. During an eight-month design phase, the team considered more than 60 ideas geared toward providing the optimal balance of financial and environmental return on investment. Commercial buildings account for one-fourth of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to The New York […]