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10 Issues That Top The Activist List For 2013

By Zach Halper - May 15, 2013

Nonprofits and activists have always had a fairly healthy relationship. The same can’t be said of corporations, which are usually a favorite target of grassroots movements. While some corporations might be reluctant to change, a new report from Future 500 indicates that a series of issues will force them to partner with nonprofits to adapt to a changing environment.

The report, titled Top 10 Stakeholder Issues, examines how 2013 is shaping up to be an extension of the populist movements the country saw in both 2011 and 2012. As increasingly emboldened funders and grassroots activists work to channel their discontent about issues such as climate change and money in politics, the San Francisco, Calif.-based nonprofit identified these activists as key stakeholders in the marketplace.

“The issues we identified will impact all business sectors, but most directly consumer brands, because stakeholders expect and demand more from them due to their market power,” said Future 500 COO Erik Wohlgemuth.

The 10 issues identified are broad in scope but are unified by one common theme: They all involve heavy grassroots pressure using digital media. Wohlgemuth believes that both corporations and nonprofits can form strategic partnerships that will solve the problems.

“With all the top 10 issues, we see great potential for forward thinking executives within companies and NGOs to align around workable solutions,” he said.

The top 10 issues are:

End Corporate Climate Silence: Although the climate change debate appeared to move to the background in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, the topic came back full force following a year of extreme weather that included the devastating Superstorm Sandy. As a result, Future 500 expects the so-called “climate litmus test” for corporate sustainability to make a return.

“In the battle for public opinion, expect the message framing to be waged via digital media,” the report reads, noting that activists are more adept in this medium than corporations.

Fracking Energy Independence vs. Clean Water and Food: Another environmental issue, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a process that allows access to oil and natural gas reserves. Activists fear fracking and other drilling operations are far outpacing regulations, and are making the campaign to ban the practice a top priority.

EPA Regulations: Future 500 predicts that mainstream groups will join grassroots activists in calling for tougher environmental regulations as more ideological groups look for stronger legislative and decisive corporate action.

Infrastructure Disruption: Emboldened by last year’s perceived delaying of the Keystone XL pipeline, activists are seeking to delay what they consider to be more “extreme energy projects,” such as off-shore drilling in the Arctic. The report predicts that organizations such as the Sierra Club, whose board recently greenlighted civil disobedience as a tactic for the first time, will keep such battles in the headlines throughout 2013.

GMOs, Are You in There?: Activists have targeted brands that use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their products, and this trend will continue in 2013. GMOs are usually contained in food products and are considered unsafe by activists, who want products that contain them to be labeled.

Digital Freedom: According to Future 500, this is the main campaign of the digital generation. Key opinion leaders include the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Access Now, and are also aided by grassroots coordinators such as Change.org.

Supply Chain Transparency: Acti­vist campaigns have been pressuring industry to set more sustainable procurement standards. Recent campaigns involving apparel manufacture and palm oil, among other things, indicate that there are many nonprofits focused on supply chain issues. Notable corporate campaign groups include Greenpeace and the Rainforest Network, while corporations such as Nike and Disney have also proved to be allies on this issue.

Obesity and Sugar: The United States is known for having an obesity problem, and the amount of sugar and processed ingredients in food and drinks has been blamed for this health problem. Childhood obesity is a big focus of activist campaigns, and people across the ideological spectrum are mobilizing to encourage healthier habits.

Money in Politics: The influence of money in political campaigns has long been an issue, but it reached a breaking point after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which has led to countless Super PACs flooding seemingly unlimited amounts of money in campaigns. It is anticipated that NGOs and investors on both the left and right will continue to demand greater transparency in their political giving, both domestically and abroad.

Economic Power: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party made headlines for their outrage over so-called “crony capitalism.” Future 500 notes that while the issues has “simmered,” it has the potential to re-ignite.

Future 500 was founded in 1995 and is focused on building “alliances between adversarial stakeholders” to solve sustainability issues that fall under four broad categories: Energy & Climate, Water & Agriculture, Materials Stewardship, and Technological Empowerment.

You can learn more about the issues and read the Stakeholders Report at  www.future500.org  NPT

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