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Posts from the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Category

Samsung’s Power Sleep app. Donate computing power while you sleep.

I think it’s safe to say that of all the “free giving” programs out there, Samsung’s Power Sleep app takes the prize. (And by “free giving” I mean programs that allow people to contribute to a good social cause while doing what they normally do anyway.) In case you haven’t heard about Power Sleep yet, the app was developed in collaboration with the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Vienna and donates your phone’s unused computing power to scientific research while you sleep. What kind of research, you might ask? How about research on cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer?

Researchers found that they didn’t have enough computing power to process the data they were working with. According to Dr Thomas Rattei, Professor of Bioinformatics at the University of Vienna, “in order to fight diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer, we need to know how proteins are created. This requires series of tests that need immense computing power and this is where Power Sleep bridges the gap between science and society.”

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S’well bottles: a hit or miss on quality?


Back in August 2011, I wrote a post on brain sugar about a new water bottle that I had recently come across and was very excited about: S’well. The design, function, and charitable contribution of the bottle and company were all things that really impressed me. I became a big fan and loudspeaker for S’well – but that didn’t last long.

At the time, I purchased two bottles for myself and my fiancé, and seeing how much I loved my bottle, a few friends of mine as well as my fiancé’s mother also purchased bottles. We live in Canada, and sourced them from a local distributor – particularly as at the time of my first order, S’well wasn’t shipping to Canada yet.

Initially, the bottle was everything I read it to be. It kept my iced water cold, and hot water hot for 24 and 12 hours. But after a few months of use, I noticed my bottle would get very hot to the touch when I put hot water in it, and the water itself become cool in a matter of one to two hours. A long cry from the 12 it once supported. Cold water resulted in condensation on the outside – which is the opposite of what should be happening – and didn’t stay cold. Somewhere along the line, my bottle no longer insulated. (Note that true to the recommended product care, I did not put the bottle through the dishwasher, or leave it immersed in water. Only the gentlest hand-washing, rinse, and air dry for my bottle!) Read more

The opportunity in crisis

In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of chatter generated by a host’s recent experience having her apartment ransacked, robbed, and trashed by fraudulent guests via AirBnB.

Initially, AirBnB appeared to be helpful and supportive, but according to the host, EJ, after she posted her horrific experience to her personal blog, AirBnB’s supportive stance seemed to stop. Since then, her post has gone viral, and the story has been muddied – with some even going so far as to challenge the truthfulness of her story. For weeks, EJ remained silent, until more recently, when she finally posted a follow-up that provided her point of view on some of the key events that had unfolded and to shed light on her appalling experience with the online rental start-up.

It would seem that after the supportive trail seemed to go cold, one of the founding members of AirBnB went so far as to call her and ask her to take down her blog or make her post about her experiences private, as it could impact AirBnB’s growth and chances of securing funding. News statements released seemed to insinuate that her claim and story may not be legitimate. All the while, to the media, AirBnB gave the strong impression that they were being supportive and helpful to EJ, and that a suspect had been apprehended with their help. EJ strongly noted to the contrary.

Through these collective actions over the weeks, AirBnB has demonstrated a very short-term, shallow, and immature response to a crisis that has only served to undermine the strong brand equity they have managed to gain in a very short period of time. For an online service company that relies heavily on good faith and trust between community members, the erosion of that very foundation can be devastating.

When crisis hits – particularly for an online service company like AirBnB – it is integral that the reaction is focused on their customers and the resolution of any situation – in this case, crisis – with integrity, compassion, and authenticity. Do that, and ironically, everything else that seems of grave importance – like reputation management and containing the damage – will be positively affected as a byproduct of the swift actions taken to demonstrate listening and crisis resolution. To do anything but will only detract from the the crisis at hand.

The silver lining to this story is that AirBnB reconsidered and decided to turn back and fully address the situation and look to make improvements to help prevent future tragic losses like what EJ experienced. Brian Chesky posted an address to their blog today, which is a positive move in the right direction. A very similar address has also been sent via email to all AirBnB members. Unfortunately for AirBnB, a lot of damage has been done to their community’s trust in them, not to mention what EJ has had to go through – a great deal of which could have been prevented. However, where others have pressed on in their old habits, AirBnB at least took inventory and made efforts to turn things around. So long as they continue on this path, I have no doubt they will be able to recover from this incident.

Besides, a lot of people will be watching and reading in the coming weeks on the next follow-up and hopefully conclusion in time for EJ. As a community, I’m sure those same people hope AirBnB makes good on their strong words and promises.

Skype rearing their ugly side? Nullified employee options

I’ve been an avid user and fan of Skype for the better part of the last seven years. To me, they offered everything a customer wants: great customer service, quality product, and constant improvement and innovation. Over the years, they have managed to carve themselves a niche market in telephony – built on a solid reputation and brand that appears to stand for good things… that is until I saw the headlines this week about how they’ve treated their employees and leadership team immediately prior to their successful sale to Microsoft.

If you haven’t seen the reports yet, a quick scan of Reuters, CNN, TechCrunch, and Bloomberg will fill you in. For a more personal account, one of the employees affected, Yee Lee, has posted his experience on his blog, FrameThink.

The short synopsis is that as Skype (and its private equity firm, Silver Lake) prepared for its sale to Microsoft, the company began firing their senior executives. The industry saw it as a strategic move to avoid mass pay-outs upon deal closure: A practice, which if true is unconventionally underhanded, as those same executives were probably the reason for Skype’s high valuation, and the reason there could be a deal in the first place. Skype and Silver Lake protested, saying that wasn’t the case. However, since then, what has since come to light is the nature of their employment contracts as they pertain to employee options.

Not only are the contracts so vague and jargon-ridden that they become incomprehensible, but when the lawyer-speak gets translated, a claw-back clause is revealed. Basically any options an employee receives as part of their employment, vested or not, can be taken back by the company at the original purchase price (not current value) upon an employee’s departure. Essentially, having the options is worse than not having them, because there’s a strong chance you’ll lose them regardless of if they are vested or not, and if you do, and the company purchases the options back from you, it will mean more taxes. Lose-lose.

From the perspective of social responsibility, this kind of practice is unthinkable. To actively plan for and so severely undercut its employees for (personal) investor gain – and likely not that significant a gain, considering the $8.5 billion sale price Microsoft paid – is on another level of poor business practices. It’s unfortunate that Skype and Silver Lake will likely get away with this in the short-term. Skype is being bought by Microsoft, so after this, the brand and management disarray from the mass departures is Microsoft’s problem to solve. However, in the longer term, Silver Lake is establishing a precedence and reputation for ruthless violation and abandon of the basic integrity the industry generally expects. It’ll be interesting to see how they’re doing years from now.

Are you putting toxic heavy metals on your face every day?

Image credit: Environmental Defense

Earlier in May, Environmental Defence released a shocking report on the health risks associated with the toxic heavy metals found in makeup. The report, “Heavy Metal Hazard”, outlines the results of tests of 49 facial makeup items that were selected from across a spectrum of categories and brands. Originally, six Canadian women were asked to identify five pieces of makeup they use regularly, while Environmental Defence selected an additional five. In the end, 49 items were tested that included five foundations, four concealers, four powders, five blushes or bronzers, seven mascaras, two eye liners, 14 eye shadows, and eight lipsticks or glosses. The products were tested by an accredited laboratory, SGS Canada Inc., for the presence of heavy metals.

The danger of heavy metals is that collectively, they accumulate in your body over time and have been linked to long-term health issues such as cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, neurological problems (memory loss, mood swings) nerve, joint and muscle disorders, cardiovascular, skeletal, blood, immune, kidney, skin, and hormonal problems… and the list goes on. Essentially, every and any aspect of your body could be adversely affected. Where it relates to make-up, the heavy metals can be absorbed through your skin, and in the case of lip products, even ingested.

Of all the heavy metals, the most concerning ones are arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury because they’re not only banned as “intentional ingredients” in the cosmetic industry (with draft limits as potential impurities), but are identified as being “toxic” in Canada because of their health implications. After the big four are beryllium, selenium, and thallium, which are also considered intentional ingredients, and finally, nickel.

What’s concerning is that at all of the facial makeup products tested positive for at least one or more heavy metal. Below is a summary of the results from the report.

Of those tested, some of the most popular, and well-loved brands were the ones testing the highest for traces of heavy metals. Even those testing the lowest, still contained at least two heavy metals. Read more

Deep Water Horizon: One year later

Image credit:

Today is Earth Day, and this past Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the last day or so, I’ve been reading a lot about the aftermath of the spill, especially as we approach (now bypass) the one year mark of what has been called the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

“Human Cost”, a guerilla art performance took place at Tate Britain. Image credit: Jeff Blackler/Rex Features

WAToday out of Australia featured a number of personal stories of some of those directly affected by the spill. Others, like The Guardian, have covered the memorial trip of the families of the eleven men who lost their lives on the rig, and some of the vigils and quiet protests of the disaster.

What is more sobering is the difficulty families and communities are having getting payment from the $20-billion compensation fund BP set up last year. To add insult to injury, BP made headlines yesterday with their lawsuit against the owners of the Deep Water Horizon rig and makers of the device that failed to stop last year’s spill. It’s disappointing to see after all the dramatics, furthered negligence, and finger-pointing the world witnessed last year – one year later, nothing has changed for the company once touted for their commitment to social responsibility.

GOOD recently posted the anniversary numbers of what has changed (or not changed) since the Deep Water Horizon disaster. Read more

Girl Effect


The Girl Effect was created by The Nike Foundation in collaboration with partners like the United Nations Foundation and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. Since then, there have been a number of initiatives and organizations that have taken on the movement with their own campaigns that focus on girls in combating poverty and illiteracy.

You might ask – why the focus on girls? Here’s a short explanation by USAID that I think says it best.

Assume this initial condition: A 13 year old girl stands at a crossroads with two choices before her: school or child marriage. The problem is it’s not usually a choice.Married, she is more likely to die from childbirth at an early age; she is more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases; she is more prone to become a victim of partner violence; she never receives an education; and she is unable to contribute to society in a way that has a larger social impact and helps to push the human race forward.With an education she marries later in life—to someone she chooses. She decides the timing of her children and is in a position to make decisions about her own health. She invests money in her children’s health and education, and is able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Other people recognize her value and contributions, and begin to understand that all girls have value.Multiply that scenario by the 600 million girls in the developing world and it’s easy to comprehend how a small change in an initial condition is capable of determining the course of humanity. That is powerful.The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart.

That’s a powerful message – and the brilliant design and execution of this campaign make the message even more powerful.

For more information about the girl effect and/or to contribute to the cause, go to

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