Impactfully No. 79: Lines Drawn

Havas is investigated for its new partnership with Shell, and capital punishment faces a new test in Alabama.

Impactfully No. 79: Lines Drawn
Photo by Damien Gaudet / Unsplash

One of the things I appreciate most about the people in social impact is how thoughtful they are when it comes to the problems we face and how we can improve the world we live in. What we believe is right is a source of some debate, and it only gets murkier the more fundamental the issue.

This week, I wanted to shine a light on some heavily-debated topics from the past few days. The first focuses on what it means to be a B Corp and how that community is scrutinizing its own members when they cross a line. The second focuses on an evolution of the death penalty in the United States, whether capital punishment can be humane or not, and the ethics of testing new methods.

Heavy stuff, but that's the kind of people we are: big challenges, big ideas, and big hearts. Let's dive in.

~ Greg

What we're reading

Havas, a major advertising and PR firm with B Corp status, is now under investigation by B Lab Global. Activists lobbied B Lab to revoke Havas's B Corp status after learning that Havas won major business from Shell. (Adweek)

  • For context, it's helpful to know that a company becomes a Certified B Corp only after an audit of its practices, from the way it treats its employees to its sustainability efforts. Once they become certified, they have to re-certify every few years. This is not a rubber stamp certification.
  • As B Corp certification has become more popular, we have seen a lot more friction over who should be allowed to certify – particularly with regards to larger companies.
    • What we're seeing here is an example of that friction – activists are essentially saying that any support of fossil fuels should automatically disqualify a business from B Corp certification, and that if B Lab does not revoke Havas's certification, they risk cheapening the B Corp label.
    • You might hear the term "greenwashing" as well, which is when a company promotes its products or services as benefiting the environment but does so in a deceptive way. The B Corp community is especially sensitive to this trend as more companies tout their sustainability practices and social impact more generally.
  • In general, I think it's a good thing that the B Corp community is trying to maintain high standards for its members. I am not an expert on all things Havas, but I'd prefer to err on the side of inclusion in general when it comes to calling a company a social enterprise.
    • A social impact company might be imperfect, but if they're going above and beyond the bystanders and always improving, that seems better than an exclusionary policy that invalidates the good a company does because of a few blemishes.
    • I want to believe that good will come from social enterprises engaging companies that aren't part of the social impact community – that's how we grow the movement.

Alabama has conducted the nation's first execution by nitrogen hypoxia. (The Guardian)

  • The death penalty is about as controversial as it gets – I won't try to argue one way or the other, but the lead up to this execution and the execution method struck me as worthy of reflection.
  • The state initially tried to execute Kenneth Smith by lethal injection two years ago, but they weren't successful. This time around, they tested a controversial new method that deprived him of oxygen.
  • The state argued that Smith should lose consciousness in seconds and die in minutes. In practice, it was not that simple. This is a difficult read, but you can review the AP's summary here.
  • I'm hoping that this method is retired, though it looks like Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Nebraska are prepared to follow suit.

Job of the week

You're going to love this job opportunity from Pattern Energy, a renewable energy company with projects around the world. As you can imagine, it takes more than a construction plan to develop a new wind or solar energy project: it takes significant community involvement and a person who understands the value of building relationships that bridge social and environmental impact.

That's where this remote Public Engagement Manager role comes in. You would manage their Community Engagement Program and work with an interdisciplinary team to align projects with the public interest. This one is definitely worth a look if you love bringing people together to make a difference.

Community roundup

  • Aston Martin is planning to release a lineup of electric vehicles powered by engines from Lucid Motors. You may recognize Aston Martin from the Bond films; there's speculation that James Bond could return to the silver screen in an electric vehicle. (Electrek)
  • Japan became the fifth country to land on the moon. Unfortunately, the spacecraft landed in an orientation that will reduce the duration of its mission. (NYT)
  • NPR has named a new CEO, Katherine Maher, who used to lead the Wikimedia Foundation. News outlets have been under pressure for many years, but a series of high-profile layoffs at the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, and Business Insider has the industry on edge early in 2024. (NPR)
  • Speaking of Journalism, CUNY announced that it aims to eliminate tuition at its Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism by 2026 through a series of endowments. Tuition will already be covered for half of students this year. (Axios)
  • LendingTree analyzed the latest U.S. Census Bureau data and discovered that single women are more likely than single men to own a home in all but three states. As Axios points out, this is more than just an interesting data point when you realize that women weren't able to apply for a mortgage without a male co-signer some sixty years ago. (LendingTree)
    • Millennial here – it's still insane to me that the women's rights and civil rights movements were so recent – and that we still have so much work to do in these areas.
  • An agreement was reached in the largest U.S. strike of university professors. Nearly 30,000 faculty and staff in the California State University system walked off the job to demand higher wages. California State University is the largest university system in the country, and this strike follows similar efforts in higher education over the past few years. (CBS News)
  • An 11-year-old boy became the first in the U.S. to receive gene therapy for congenital deafness, allowing him to hear for the first time. This type of deafness affects around 200,000 people globally, and doctors hope to expand the trial over the coming years to more patients. (NYT)

Hot job opportunities

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Resource of the week

You may have heard that you spend one-third of your life at work, and that's why it's such a powerful vehicle for change. 80,000 Hours is a nonprofit that helps people research high-impact jobs, determine key skills to develop, and find a job at organizations around the world. They primarily target college students and graduates interested in analytical and academic roles, but you'll find other opportunities as well.

If you're interested in a social impact career but don't know exactly what you want to work on, I'd recommend checking out their website for inspiration. Their list of the world's most pressing problems is a great start.

Test your knowledge

Last week, I offered a question about employee benefits – ESOPs to be exact. An ESOP is an employee stock ownership plan. I tend to see this more often with startup companies, with early employees given a compensation package that includes a salary and equity.

It's surprisingly common among social impact companies, however, with many of them touting employee ownership as a badge of honor. If you do apply to a company with an ESOP, I'd recommend asking about the vesting schedule – your stock needs to "vest" over time before you can sell it when you retire or otherwise leave the company.

With this week's news about the NPR leadership change, I thought it might be fun to dive into Wikipedia's year-end reports. You can also check out jobs at the Wikimedia Foundation here.

Reviewing the top 25 most viewed pages on Wikipedia from last year, you might notice some trends: blockbuster movies, current events, and Indian pop culture. Which page received more views in 2023: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, J. Robert Oppenheimer, or ChatGPT?

Email me your guess, and I'll send one lucky winner a couple of One Work stickers!

I am taking my first red eye flight tonight in over 15 years and hoping I can sleep sitting up. You can find me on LinkedIn and Threads.

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Jamie Larson