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  • Schumpeter: A new green wave
    BILL MCKIBBEN, an American environmentalist, once dismissed sustainability as “a buzzless buzzword”. That seems about right. A survey of 2,000 companies by the MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group found that two-thirds of businesspeople thought social and environmental matters were “significant” or “very significant” but that only 10% thought they themselves were doing enough about it.That sense of disappointment should be no surprise. Sustainability can refer to anything from building wind farms to combating social inequality. The idea crops up everywhere from Starbucks to the deliberations of the United Nations (whose governments are in the middle of working out a set of so-called Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-30). An ill-defined, controversial notion is no basis for coherent policy.Many corporate “sustainability plans” are therefore modest. They focus on saving energy, cutting waste and streamlining logistics. Nothing wrong with that: these things reduce operating costs while benefiting the environment. They help explain why sustainability efforts tend to increase profits, not reduce them. A study by...
  • Music and shopping: Beware of Beethoven
    EVER since Muzak started serenading patrons of hotels and restaurants in the 1930s, piped-in music has been part of the consumer experience. Without the throb of a synthesiser or a guitar’s twang, shoppers would sense something missing as they tried on jeans or filled up trolleys. Specialists like Mood Media, which bought Muzak in 2011, devise audio programmes to influence the feel of shops and cater to customers’ tastes. The idea is to entertain, and thereby prolong the time shoppers spend in stores, says Claude Nahon, the firm’s international chief. Music by famous artists works better than the generic stuff that people associate with Muzak. The embarrassing brand name was dropped in 2013.Online shopping is an under-explored area of merchandising musicology. A new study commissioned by eBay, a shopping website, aims to correct that. Some 1,900 participants were asked to simulate online shopping while listening to different sounds. Some results were unsurprising. The noise of roadworks and crying babies soured shoppers’ views of the products on offer. Chirruping birds encouraged sales of barbecues but not blenders or board games.Sounds associated with quality...
  • Schumpeter: Replacing the board
    CORPORATE boards are among the most important institutions in capitalism. Their job is to police the relationship between shareholders who own companies and managers who run them. This means keeping an eye out for managerial incompetence and fraud. It also means standing back and offering strategic advice on hiring new managers or buying competitors.Yet their record might politely be described as mixed. The first decade of the 21st century produced an embarrassment of dismal oversight, from the Enron and WorldCom scandals of 2001-02 to the financial crisis of 2007-08. “I actually don’t think risk management failed,” said Larry Fink, the boss of BlackRock, an investment firm. “I think corporate governance failed, because…the boards didn’t ask the right questions.”Problems have been widespread and deep-rooted. Chief executives have packed boards with cronies: Michael Eisner’s board at Disney once included the former headmistress of his children’s school and the man who designed his house. They have sidelined critics: when a member of the Bank of America’s board criticised the CEO’s compensation in 2000 she was dropped.The past decade has seen several attempts to...