Category Archives: Corporate Social Responsibility

It’s Time to Save the World

“Is my English OK? Is the microphone on?” asked Greta Thunberg, in one of her most recent addresses. “Because I’m beginning to wonder.”

Laughter from the audience.

It wasn’t a joke. No one seems to be listening.

Nine years ago, when I was Greta’s age, I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t politically, globally, socially, environmentally aware. I wasn’t aware of what our biggest problems were–or that I, as a kid, could do anything about it, even if I did know what was happening in the world.

Nine years ago, I was LARPing (live-action role playing). For those who don’t know, LARP is a game wherein you create a character for yourself, dress up in costume, and run around in the woods at night, fighting faux villains with foam sticks. It’s like playing make-believe in the backyard when you were little, but on a larger scale, with maybe a better production value.

LARP comes in a number of forms, but the game I played was mostly like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a fantasy game. Swords and sorcery. Lightning bolts. Storming the castle. All of that.

While I knew that the events in the game weren’t “real” and that the character I played wasn’t “real,” they always felt important. They felt bigger than the small “reality” I actually lived in. I often felt that my character was better than me. She was stronger, prettier, freer. She had more goodness in her; more to give. I wanted to be like her in real life.

This disconnect–the idea that my character was false and somehow separate from me–affected my growth in a number of ways. I could write a book on it. There’s a lot to unpack. But the point here is that even after I managed to quit the game, I had a hard time developing an idea of who I was without that character.

Recently, with the changing of the seasons, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. It would be the start of LARP season now, if I was still playing.

I’m still sorting through it, but one of the things that finally occurred to me was that I could be like the heroic character I used to play. I already was like her. She came from me.

But there were still situational differences, systematic differences between that character’s world and mine, dragging me down.

I posted this on Facebook:

larp

And, only days later, the sentiment was echoed by somebody else:

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I’ve been flailing for a solution. Something I could do to help the environment, and reconcile the reality of my apparent helplessness with the idea of once having played at being someone courageous and able to create change.

In this video, Jane Goodall advises people to act locally. “Quite honestly,” she says, “if you think globally, you get depressed.” Break it down, then. Start with what you know you can do. Do something. Even if it might seem small. “We’re all interconnected.”

I’ve been worrying myself sick. I woke up today with a sore throat, and a headache, presumably from my newfangled teeth grinding habit. In an anxious, somewhat dissociated haze, I drove to the store for some groceries, just to get out of the house. Everywhere, meat and dairy. Things packaged in plastic. Delicious things that I only felt bad about craving. I bought one of those chocolate bars that claims to help endangered species, and felt doubtful about its impact, but I hoped.

On my way home, it seemed like all I could see was trash. Scattered along the side of the road, accumulating in the ditches, washed up along the curb. Plastic bags blowing in the wind and caught up in bushes.

Enough is enough.

I found a metal stick–one of those garden hooks for hanging bird feeders or little candle pots–and I filed the end to a point on my dad’s bench grinder. I walked across the street to the park outside my house, and I attacked the garbage in the rain garden. I chased it through the foliage, piercing it with my makeshift rapier, collecting its remains.

Maybe this will help.

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Photo by Robert Stuart Lowden

I’m an adventurer. It’s my job.

And for all the shitheads out there who consume without thinking, and leave their trash lying around; for the people who continue to make a mess of the world, I have just one message:

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Corporate Profits Trump Science

With a new president in the White House, environmental policy and science are on the hot list of topics expected to see major change. Shortly after being sworn in, President Donald Trump had the climate change page on the white house website taken down. The President has repeatedly expressed his view that climate change is not a serious concern. Vice President Mike Pence doesn’t believe in climate change or evolution, and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson (former ExxonMobil CEO) doesn’t believe human activity is causing climate change.      

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) issued a groundbreaking finding that six greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane), “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” This had previously been established as fact in the scientific community, but the importance of the “Endangerment Finding” was it allowed the EPA to regulate emissions from cars and power plants under the Clean Air Act. Lawsuits challenging the finding quickly followed and President Trump’s newly appointed EPA Head, Scott Pruitt, was one of the attorneys that mounted said lawsuits. Yes, you read that correctly. The man selected to lead the EPA has a history of fighting on the side of corporations and has challenged scientific findings of the agency.

To learn more about Trump’s fight against science: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/healthcare/317194-the-war-against-science#bottom-story-socials

How did we get here? How do so many embrace the short-sighted belief that protecting corporate profits is, somehow, more important than the sustainability of our planet? The basis for scientific discovery is fact, facts accumulated through rigorous testing that attempts to disprove them as otherwise. Compared to his predecessor, President Trump and his new regime clearly take a very different stance on science and environmental policy. This new administration stands on the side of protecting and maximizing corporate profits. What needs to be addressed, is the administrations blatant denial of scientific facts regarding the consequences of certain destructive business practices.

This is not a call for the downfall of Corporate America, nor an attack on capitalism and free enterprise. I simply aim to facilitate a discussion about the bigger picture, social responsibility and the future we want to create. The key word here is future, our very existence is contingent upon having a planet capable of supporting human life. Neglecting to recognize facts and take measures to combat climate change jeopardizes the well-being of future generations. Scientific discovery is how we better understand the world around us, how we learn to make better decisions and improve. Science matters.

The good news is, people from all over are taking notice. More than 800,000 people involved in a private Facebook group organized a March for Science and plan to act.

Here’s a link if you want to learn more or get involved: https://www.marchforscience.com/

Kyle Winkelman

Crude Oil Derailment. Here?

One of my fellow classmates at Metro State is a man who works in a Twin Cities office for the Department of Homeland Security. He is part of a team that creates evacuation plans, food and water supply chains, and envisions where and how many emergency shelters would be needed should a disaster occur in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. As he described his job, one thing that he said took me by surprise.

A scenario that we have been working overtime on, is crude oil derailment. Routes with crude roll right through parts of the Twin Cities.

Growing Concerns
From the day I learned about the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), I had an ever-growing list of environmental concerns for the procedure. It hadn’t occurred to me, however, that train loads of this extracted oil was shipped long distances through numerous populated areas. Nor did I know that oil extracted by fracking was more explosive than regular crude.

Add Explosions to the List
Since the 2013 deadly explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, my awareness surrounding issues of crude oil transport has been steadily increasing. With yesterday’s news of another explosion, this time in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, I have been evermore convinced that a crude oil disaster could easily happen here, because a large number of oil trains pass through the Twin Cities.

Concern in Como
Residents of St. Paul’s Como neighborhood have long been concerned. Recently, they heard from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT). The department conducted a study to evaluate the risks of crude oil transport by rail, and the results included a recommendation to build a bridge that would separate traffic from the rail tracks. At a cost of $25 million, the neighborhood gave their support, though they and legislators hope the cost is paid for by the railroad.

Inching Toward Responsibility
A number of explosive derailments within the past year happened despite tank cars that exceeded the newest federal minimum requirements. Many people have lost their lives in these explosions. Environmental contamination affects the area as well. I wonder what it will take before the oil and rail industries take greater responsibility for the deadly risks they impose by their activities. It would be appropriate for them to absorb all costs for upgrades. Much, much more should be done to prevent them.

NFL is a Not For Profit Organization

NFL MoneyIt can be argued that professional sports organizations provide economic benefits to their local community by helping fuel the hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, etc) and paying state income taxes. Although there may be some truth to these claims, there is a dark side to professional sports that many fans are unaware of. Some of the largest professional sports organizations enjoy not-for-profit status for IRS purposes and therefore do not pay federal income taxes. This includes the National Football League (NFL), the Professional Golfers Association (PGA), National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Let’s focus on the NFL.

In 1942, the National Football League (NFL) became a not-for-profit organization. In 1966, the NFL managed to wheedle a few very important keywords into a piece of legislation that solidified its tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit. During these early years, the NFL claimed it needed these tax breaks since it was struggling financially and many of its franchises were folding. Pro football was not yet the crazy profit-generating entity that it quickly morphed into by the mid to late 1970’s.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

According to Gregg Easterbrook in an article for The Atlantic, “Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn’t apply to broadcast deals, the [NFL] league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year.”

piggy-bank-non-profit-organizationAccording to the IRS, 501(c)6 organizations are supposed to be business leagues that promote a common business interest but do not to engage in “a regular business of a kind ordinarily carried on for profit.” I argue that the NFL is an organization whose *sole* purpose is to provide entertainment and generate profit for its 32 franchise owners. A former IRS attorney stated, The NFL’s main goal is not to “operate for the public purpose of aiding commerce for all within a broad segment of some type of business or business in general. … [Instead] these sports organizations, in my opinion, are anything but public-minded in their profit interest. They are focused on the profits of their franchises.”

Nonprofit Quarterly had an excellent article explaining why Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okal., proposed the PRO Sports Act S. 1524 and the Daily KoS blog offers a scathing (and wonderfully bias) commentary regarding why the NFL should be stripped of its not-for-profit status.

As a spokesman for Senator Coburn’s office stated, “It’s one of the striking examples in the tax code where middle- and lower-income Americans are essentially subsidizing salaries for multimillionaires.”  Furthermore, the Joint Committee on Taxation in Congress estimates that “removing such exemptions… could mean $109 million in new tax revenue over the next 10 years.”

For an in-depth look at this issue, read the full Atlantic article by Gregg Easterbrook here.

To sign a petition to request the IRS revoke the not-for-profit, tax exempt status of the NFL, click here.

Don’t take their word for it…

There are many cases where companies say they are giving back to the places they do business, when in fact, they do so just to enhance their corporate reputations, or to cover up unfavorable practices. This is also known as window dressing, stated in Mainwaring on page 106.

Out of high school, I worked as a baristaat Starbucks for about a year. During OJT, I was informed on the many things the Starbucks did to give back to the farmers who grow their coffee. I thought, “This is great. I really like the company that I am working for because they are involved in making a difference.”

I like to think I have come a long way from my barista days. Opening my eyes, I realized that everything is not always as it seems. Finding out the truth of a company’s practices requires further research.

In a Magazine and Online Writing course I took last semester, I read a peer’s paper on the trend of companies buying land in other countries and shipping food back home, while the people living where the food was grown are dying of starvation.

Starbucks was one of those companies, practicing unethical business in Ethiopia. This article tells of the efforts Starbucks went through to prevent their fellow coffee growers from trademarking their own crops.

If this interests you, I encourage you to dig a little deeper. A quick Google search can reveal so much more than a company may be willing to tell you. When it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, we cannot simply take their word for it.