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McDonald’s Directors Beat Sexual Misconduct Oversight Lawsuit




Corp. board members didn’t violate their duty to shareholders in the handling of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, a Delaware court said, ruling that the directors’ response was legally sufficient.


The decision throws out shareholders’ claims against nine individuals who sat on McDonald’s board during a period in which sexual misconduct claims at the company drew widespread public scrutiny.


Though there were “vibrant” red flags about problems with sexual harassment and misconduct at McDonald’s, the board took action, Vice Chancellor

J. Travis Laster

of the Delaware Chancery Court said in a decision issued Wednesday.

“The pled facts do not support a reasonably conceivable claim against [the directors] for breach of the duty of oversight,” he wrote.

The lawsuit against the board members has been closely watched, and not only because it offers a window into an alleged party culture at the headquarters of one of the world’s leading restaurant brands. The court’s rulings could clarify expectations for how company leadership is expected to respond to failures of corporate compliance.

A lawyer for McDonald’s and the directors who were sued hailed the outcome.

“The record shows that the board actively enforced the company’s policies and commitment to maintaining safe, respectful, and inclusive workplaces,” said

Ron Olson,

a partner at the firm Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

A lawyer representing the suing shareholders didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The claims center on what shareholders alleged was a boys’ club-type atmosphere at McDonald’s, complete with frequent gatherings at an open bar on the eighth floor of the company’s Chicago headquarters and alleged encouragement to hire young, attractive women to work in administrative roles there. 

Delaware law allows shareholders to sue directors over alleged oversight failures, including the failure to ensure there were compliance processes in place to address mission-critical risks. While some of the directors named in the suit have since left their roles, several remain on the board.

In 2019, McDonald’s fired Chief Executive

Stephen Easterbrook

because of a consensual relationship with an employee, which violated company policy. Shareholders later sued McDonald’s board of directors, as well as Mr. Easterbrook and the company’s former chief human resources officer,

David Fairhurst,

for allegedly violating their fiduciary duties to the company.

The judge previously threw out shareholder claims against Mr. Easterbrook. Mr. Easterbrook’s legal team declined to comment.

After his termination, Mr. Easterbrook was accused of having undisclosed sexual relationships with other employees. McDonald’s ultimately settled a lawsuit against Mr. Easterbrook, clawing back some of his compensation. Mr. Easterbrook also paid a fine in a settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, without admitting or denying the SEC’s claims that he made misleading statements about relationships with employees.

The shareholders alleged in their lawsuit that Mr. Fairhurst failed to appropriately respond to systemic issues of sexual misconduct at the company, a problem in which he was implicated. At the time of his termination in 2019, Mr. Fairhurst had been the subject of multiple reports of sexual harassment during his tenure, according to the Delaware ruling.

In an important decision issued in January, Vice Chancellor Laster allowed the claims against Mr. Fairhurst to proceed. The legal impact of Wednesday’s decision on the case against Mr. Fairhurst wasn’t immediately clear. A lawyer for Mr. Fairhurst didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The alleged sexual harassment issues at McDonald’s led to a wave of complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a 10-city strike by workers and an inquiry by a U.S. senator. But Vice Chancellor Laster said McDonald’s directors “engaged with the problem” and can’t be held liable. Their response included hiring outside consultants, revising company policies and implementing new training programs, he said.

The judge also dismissed claims that the company’s directors had breached their duty to shareholders by terminating Mr. Easterbrook without a finding of fault, instead of firing him for cause. Reasonable minds can disagree on whether that was the right decision, but directors were entitled to make that decision under a rule protecting the exercise of business judgment, Vice Chancellor Laster said.

Write to Richard Vanderford at Richard.Vanderford@wsj.com

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Companies Face Another Packed Year of Sustainability Shareholder Votes



U.S. companies are facing fewer shareholder proposals on social issues this year but more calls for climate action. Anti-ESG ones are increasing, too.

For annual general meetings taking place in the first six months of the year, shareholders across all U.S. publicly traded companies filed a total of 538 proposals related to environmental, social and sustainability governance issues, according to the Sustainable Investments Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit that tracks such votes. Last year, there were 577 filings over the same period.  


Proposals focused on social issues were again the most popular this year, mentioned in 338 of the filings, down more than 9% from 373 last year. Environmental issues were at the heart of 162 proposals, up slightly from 2022’s comparable tally of 155. Included in the grand total were 48 so-called anti-ESG proposals focused on the risk of ESG-promoting policies, up from 27 in the same period last year. 

Historically proposals sought more transparency, better disclosure or asked for companies to set goals, said Peter Reali, managing director and member of the sustainable investments team at fund manager Nuveen LLC. Now, many are calling for a change in behavior or impact, he said.

While the votes on proposals aren’t binding, they can create pressure for companies to change, to take a position on hot-button issues and can also express a lack of investor confidence in board members. However, Heidi Welsh, director of the Sustainable Investments Institute, cautioned that “it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions about support levels since we only have seen about half a dozen votes.” 

There are 298 proposals for companies to take more action on social issues, slightly down from 332 in 2022. Again this year, around a third of those concerned politics, including requests to set up board oversight or to report on a company’s lobbying, election spending or trade associations. Last year, politically-focused proposals won an average of 32% support, with only five—including at Twitter Inc.,

Netflix Inc.

and insurer

Travelers Companies Inc.

—achieving majority support. 

There are also 20 pay equity proposals this year, down from 33 in 2022. These typically ask companies to audit or report on gender-and-racial pay differences. Abortion has also emerged as a flashpoint with 22 reproductive health proposals this year, up from four last year.

Environmental action was the second most popular area of shareholder focus. So far, there are 160 pro-environment proposals this year, up from 154 in 2022. Most environmental proposals ask companies to adopt or report on Paris-aligned climate targets, while a smaller number ask investors, insurers and banks to report on, limit or cease their financing of fossil fuels. 

Shareholders voted on a record number of pro-climate proposals last year, but their support was lukewarm for more ambitious goals such as ending fossil-fuel financing. 

Support has waned slightly since 2021 when proposals calling for emission-reduction targets garnered record backing. Investors have also been more hesitant to support proposals that specifically lay out how a company should meet a climate target, said Mr. Reali: “It’s one thing to ask companies to set goals and targets, it’s another thing to tell companies how to achieve those goals and targets.” 

Evidence of the rise of the anti-ESG movement in the U.S. can also be seen. The 48 anti-ESG filings to date mostly ask companies to report on the “risks” of corporate plans for improving diversity and inclusion in and outside the company. Only five concerned the environment.

Ms. Welsh expects more anti-ESG proposals this season. However, last year, most of these types of proposals received less than 5% support, the threshold necessary to refile it again in the coming year. This year’s first anti-ESG vote—asking

Apple Inc.

to report on the “risks” of its diversity and inclusion programs—received 1.4% support.


The proposal tally will change over the AGM season, running from January to September but with most meetings happening between April and June. Some proxy statements will include new proposals. Companies will avoid votes when shareholders withdraw some current proposals, usually after they reach an agreement with the company on an issue. Last year, 273 proposals were withdrawn before they could be voted on during the AGMs in the first half of 2022. The comparable figure this year is 120, so far. 

Write to Dieter Holger at dieter.holger@wsj.com

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Nestlé Says Less Than Half of Its Main Portfolio Is Ranked as Healthy



Nestlé SA promised it will work to boost the nutritional value of its snacks, drinks and food products, after most of its portfolio was rated as unhealthy.

Less than half of Nestlé’s main food-and-drink portfolio is considered healthy, according to the results of an international nutrient profiling system that the Swiss food company published for the first time. Nestlé started using it last year with the aim of boosting transparency about the nutritional value of its products. 

In its 2022 annual report, published Tuesday, the maker of KitKat chocolate bars and Nescafe coffee said 54% of its net sales came from products rated at the lower end of the health ratings scale. This doesn’t include pet food or other specialized products, such as vitamins, and excludes some recent acquisitions, Nestlé said.

Alongside multivitamins and bottled water, Nestlé’s brands include a range of confectionery and breakfast cereals, as well as instant-coffee and milkshake drinks, Häagen-Dazs ice cream and ready meals. The health star rating system, or HSR, ranks the nutritional profile of packaged foods on a scale from a low of half a star up to five stars for the healthiest foods. The lowest-rated products, below 1.5, are those that should be eaten only occasionally, while those from 1.5 to less than 3.5 should have their nutritional value improved and guidance given, Nestlé said.

Of Nestlé’s products by sales, 17% had an HSR of less than 1.5 and a further 18% had one below 3.5. Another 30% of the products had an HSR of above 3.5, which means the nutritional value is of a good level, Nestlé said. The remaining 35% included those that aren’t generally subject to health ratings.

To be sure, some of Nestle’s range of confectionery products are unlikely to ever qualify as healthy; however, the company has also committed to helping its consumers make healthier choices, through initiatives such as clear nutritional labeling, designing portion sizes carefully and offering recipes for use of fresh ingredients.

The HSR was formulated by the Australian government to boost transparency in food products and to encourage manufacturers to raise their nutritional value. It has been widely adopted and incorporated into companies’ own self-assessments, including by Nestlé’s rival


PLC, maker of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Unilever’s figures, published in October, showed that only 24% of its global revenue for 2021 came from products with an HSR above 3.5.

“Our focus is on improving the nutritional value of our products,” Nestlé said. “We are continuously improving the nutritional profile of our products by adding more whole grains, proteins and fibers while reducing sugars, sodium and saturated fats—without compromising taste.”

Nestlé said it would reduce sodium in many of its products, such as instant noodles and bottled sauces. It expects to complete initial reductions by the end of 2025, with a further round of reductions scheduled for 2030. 

In 2021, Nestlé came top of a ranking of major food and beverage players for its contribution to addressing malnutrition. The rankings from the Access to Nutrition Initiative rate companies on their practices and disclosure, including on ensuring healthy products and influencing consumer choices. 

Write to Joshua Kirby at joshua.kirby@wsj.com

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European Ports Brace for Cybersecurity Regulation



European ports are preparing for a major regulatory change next year in how the hundreds of companies in their global supply chains address cybersecurity as ports have become a target for criminal hacker groups and state-sponsored attacks. 

Cybersecurity rules approved by the European Union for pharmaceuticals, transportation, energy and other critical infrastructure companies are set to take effect in 2024 and will require hundreds of firms that operate out of Europe’s big ports to use basic security measures and report hacks to cybersecurity authorities. The regulation will be the first such cybersecurity requirements for many companies that provide services to critical sectors. Violators face fines of up to 10 million euros, equivalent to roughly $10.7 million, or up to 2% of global revenue, whichever is higher. 


The war in Ukraine, rising energy prices and supply-chain disruptions during the pandemic have put port authorities on high alert for a rising number of cyberattacks. Ports in cities such Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Antwerp in Belgium, Europe’s two largest ports by cargo volume, are hubs for energy infrastructure and other critical sectors. A cyberattack three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 disrupted operations at energy storage and distribution companies and a large terminal operator in Antwerp and other Belgian and Dutch ports.

Energy storage tanks at the Antwerp port.


Nathan Laine/Bloomberg News

For port authorities that ensure cargo moves safely through harbors, the coming rules could simplify their jobs because it can be difficult to nudge port-based companies, such as storage providers for oil and goods, terminal operators or logistics firms, to voluntarily adopt cybersecurity protections, said Athanasios Drougkas, a security expert at Enisa, the European cybersecurity agency. “It will make their lives easier,” he said.

The rules will apply to critical infrastructure operators and companies in their supply chains, including technology service providers. A growing number of cyber threats have targeted critical infrastructure companies during the war in Ukraine, highlighting the vulnerability of supply chains. “We felt that there was a bull’s-eye on the company,” said Yannick Herrebaut, chief information security officer at Belgium’s Port of Antwerp-Bruges NV, referring to the port authority. 

Companies based at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges were hit with ransomware in February 2022 at the same time that cyberattacks disrupted German energy storage companies and firms at Dutch ports. The victims suspended some operations and tankers crowded outside the port of Antwerp-Bruges waiting to unload.

“It’s getting more and more important that you need to have control over this supply chain,” he said.

Over time, the coming European cybersecurity law for critical infrastructure will likely have a similar effect as the European Union’s broad privacy rules known as the General Data Protection Regulation, said Deepak Mehta, an ecosystem developer at the Maritime Campus Antwerp, which works on technology innovation with maritime companies including ports and shipowners. 

A prior version of the coming EU cyber law mandated fewer safeguards than does the finalized one and applied only to large companies in a handful of critical sectors. Starting next year, the expanded cyber rules will apply to a larger pool of companies, including many medium-size firms, and to sectors including waste management, space and technology providers that previously didn’t fall under the 2018 law. EU countries have until October 2024 to start implementing the requirements and ensuring national regulators enforce the rules.

Around five companies in the port of Rotterdam fall under the jurisdiction of the earlier law, said Marijn van Schoote, head of cybersecurity at the Port of Rotterdam. That number will jump to around 200 when the updated version is in effect, he said. 

The new law requires critical infrastructure companies to make sure they carry out cyber risk assessments, use technical protections such as encryption and measures to prevent and respond to cyberattacks, and due diligence for the cybersecurity protections that service providers have in place.  

“A lot of work has to be done in the upcoming years,” Mr. van Schoote said.

The expansion will push companies to improve cybersecurity measures they have neglected, said Rob Nijman, spokesman for FERM, a group that shares cybersecurity intelligence from government bodies among around 50 member companies at the Port of Rotterdam. “There’s of course opportunities for companies to get their stuff in order because they have to,” he said. 

The port of Rotterdam is assessing whether it could set up a security operations center modeled on a similar initiative at the port of Los Angeles, Mr. van Schoote said. His office will decide before the summer whether to go ahead. 

The Los Angeles port shares information about threats through a cyber defense center with around 20 members including companies and groups such as the port’s dockworkers. A separate security operations center at the port runs around the clock and stops about 40 million attempted cyberattacks a month, said


Gene Seroka,

the port’s executive director.

More than 200,000 companies use the Port of Los Angeles every year, with shipping lines, trucks and railways transporting cargo there. “It’s a really complex set of participants,” he said.

Write to Catherine Stupp at catherine.stupp@wsj.com

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ChatGPT Helped Win a Hackathon



The ChatGPT AI bot has spurred speculation about how hackers might use it and similar tools to attack faster and more effectively, though the more damaging exploits so far have been in laboratories.

In its current form, the ChatGPT bot from OpenAI, an artificial-intelligence startup backed by billions of dollars from Microsoft Corp., is mainly trained to digest and generate text. For security chiefs, that means bot-written phishing emails might be more convincing than, for example, messages from a hacker whose first language isn’t English. 

Today’s ChatGPT is too unpredictable and susceptible to errors to be a reliable weapon itself, said

Dustin Childs,

head of threat awareness at Trend Micro Inc.’s Zero Day Initiative, the cybersecurity company’s software vulnerability-hunting program. “We’re years away from AI finding vulnerabilities and doing exploits all on its own,” Mr. Childs said.

Still, that won’t always be the case, he said. 

Two security researchers from cybersecurity company Claroty Ltd. said ChatGPT helped them win the Zero Day Initiative’s hack-a-thon in Miami last month.

Noam Moshe,

a vulnerability researcher at Claroty, said the approach he and his partner took shows how a determined hacker can employ an AI bot. Generative AI—algorithms that create realistic text or images built on the training data they have consumed—can supplement hackers’ know-how, he said.

The goal of the three-day event, known as Pwn2Own, was to disrupt, break into and take over Internet of Things and industrial systems. Before arriving, contestants chose targets from Pwn2Own’s list, and then prepared tactics.  

Mr. Moshe and his partner found several potential weak points in their selected systems. They used ChatGPT to help write code to chain the bugs together, he said, saving hours of manual development. No single bug would have allowed the team to get very far, he said, but manipulating them in a sequence would. At the contest, Mr. Moshe and his partner succeeded all 10 times they tried, winning $123,000. 

“A vulnerability on its own isn’t interesting, but when we look at the bigger picture and collect vulnerabilities, we can rebuild the chain to take over the system,” he said.  

OpenAI and other companies with generative AI bots are adding controls and filters to prevent abuse, such as to prevent racist or sexist outputs. 

Some bad actors will likely try to get around any cybersecurity boundaries the bots are taught, said

Christopher Whyte,

an assistant professor of cybersecurity and homeland security at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Rather than instructing a bot to write code to take data from a computer without a user knowing, a hacker could try to trick it to write malicious code by formulating the request without obvious triggers, Mr. Whyte said.

It is similar to when a scammer uses persuasion to trick an office worker to reveal credentials or wire money to fraudulent accounts, he said. “You steer the conversation to get the target to bypass controls,” he said.  

Write to Kim S. Nash at kim.nash@wsj.com

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Courts Side With Big Companies Including Amazon and Experian in Privacy Appeals



Big companies are winning appeals to overturn regulatory decisions that allege they violated European privacy rules, potentially carving out a path for more businesses to challenge similar sanctions.

Courts in the U.K., Spain, Italy and Germany sided with companies including






com Inc. and Italian energy giant


SpA in recent rulings, in some cases striking down multimillion-dollar fines and reaffirming companies’ arguments that their data practices comply with the General Data Protection Regulation.

Companies have appealed GDPR decisions since the expansive privacy law took effect in 2018 in an effort to fight reputational harm and large fines, which can reach up to 4% of a company’s global revenue, or 20 million euros, whichever is higher. Now companies see entire business models at stake. Meta Platforms Inc., for example, said it is appealing fines of €390 million, or $414 million, imposed in Ireland in January over the social-media company’s practices in targeting Instagram and Facebook users with ads.

“We’re starting to see the through line of companies starting to pick their battles and spend the time and effort on the appeals they think they can win and would have an effect on their business models,” said Edward Machin, a lawyer in the London office of law firm Ropes & Gray LLP.

Appeals of major GDPR decisions show a significant amount of “gray area” where privacy lawyers, regulators and courts disagree over what the law allows, said Flora Egea Torrón, a partner at Spanish law firm Legal Army S.L. and former data-protection officer at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA.


is a multinational financial-services company. 

“There’s so much room still to interpret GDPR, so that’s why [companies] have to fight against the decisions” from regulators, she said. 

A Spanish court overturned a 2020 fine of €5 million against BBVA related to multiple complaints of the bank processing personal data without consent. The court decision, issued in late December and made public this year, said Spain’s regulator made a broad argument about the bank’s data-protection policy without enough evidence. 

Ms. Torrón said she was aware of the appeal while she worked at BBVA but wasn’t involved as an outside counsel after joining Legal Army in February. The regulator said it is considering an appeal. BBVA declined to comment. 

An Italian court last month overturned a €26.5 million fine from 2021 against utility Enel Energia over unsolicited marketing calls—a ruling the company said “confirms the correctness” of its behavior. The Italian regulator declined to comment. 

Amazon’s use of hand scanners to monitor warehouse employees’ performance was ruled illegal in 2020 by the data protection regulator in Lower Saxony, Germany, but that decision was overturned by a court last month.


ronny hartmann/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Last month, a U.K. court largely sided with Ireland-based credit-rating company Experian in its appeal of a 2020 decision made by Britain’s privacy regulator that would have restricted how it processes data from public sources.

The court said Experian’s data collection can rely on legitimate interest, a legal term in the GDPR allowing companies to gather personal data without asking for explicit consent, for direct marketing. The court rejected the regulator’s argument that collecting personal data to create profiles for marketing purposes intrudes on privacy rights. The court said the regulator had “fundamentally misunderstood” the implications of how Experian used data, and that there were no negative effects for individuals. Britain’s privacy watchdog will apply for permission to appeal the ruling, a spokeswoman for the regulator said. 

The court didn’t completely exonerate Experian, agreeing with the regulator that the company didn’t properly notify around five million people about how it acquired their data from public records. Experian must issue those notifications within a year. 

Experian said in a statement that it was “very pleased with the outcome.”  

Amazon got a win when a court sided with it last month against the data protection regulator in the German state of Lower Saxony, which ruled in 2020 that the company’s use of hand scanners to monitor employee performance in a warehouse was illegal. There was no fine. The regulator said in a statement after the court overturned its decision that lawmakers need to create new protections. 

An Amazon spokesman said the company was “pleased” with the ruling. “Warehouse management systems are industry standard, and research shows that these systems have a positive effect on employees’ work experience,” he said.

These recent wins will likely embolden other companies to appeal GDPR violations, said Mr. Machin of Ropes & Gray.

“There’s a strategic element here as companies are learning, just as regulators are learning, what can work, what can’t work and what they think can be challenged,” he said.

Write to Catherine Stupp at catherine.stupp@wsj.com

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Taylor Swift’s Real-Estate Empire Is Worth More Than $150 Million



Taylor Swift got her start in the music industry at the tender age of 16, with the release of her eponymous country album in 2006. In the years since, the 12-time Grammy winner has transformed herself into a pop superstar and built her brand into a global powerhouse, selling more than two million tickets for her upcoming “Eras Tour” in a single day and announcing plans to direct an upcoming feature film. Along the way, she has become a savvy businesswoman who has often used her clout to shake up the music industry. Most recently, her decision to rerecord her older albums, ensuring that revenue from those streams go to her, caused a flurry of new standards from her label Universal Music Group NV to make sure other artists didn’t follow suit.  

So it’s perhaps not surprising that, in the process of becoming a music-industry juggernaut, Ms. Swift has also amassed an empire in the real-estate world. Despite her relative youth, the 33-year-old has assembled a portfolio of homes worth at least $150 million. With a penchant for historic houses, Ms. Swift—using a variety of trusts and limited liability companies—has acquired significant properties in locations ranging from Nashville, Tenn., to Beverly Hills and Rhode Island. Since most of these properties were purchased years before the Covid-induced real-estate frenzy, their value has risen dramatically in the time they’ve been owned by the country-singer-turned-pop star. While Ms. Swift tends to hold her properties for the long term, she has also sold a few homes along the way, often for a substantial profit.

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Sustainable Aviation Fuel No Quick Fix to Greening Air Travel



United Airlines Holdings Inc.

has turned to an apt pitchman for a new advertising campaign touting the environmental benefits of jet fuel made from waste: Oscar the Grouch. 


But the “Sesame Street” character’s cynical worldview may be ideally suited to the airline’s campaign for another reason. The reality is that flying planes on sustainable aviation fuel—known as SAF—faces big hurdles, and the airline acknowledged in the ad that it currently uses less than 0.1% of SAF for its fuel needs.


Aviation produces more than 2% of global energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency, and that is on track to rise as more of the world’s population takes to the skies. It is one of the hardest industries to decarbonize because it requires very energy-dense fuels to travel long distances. 

Oscar the Grouch is United Airlines’ pitchman for a new advertising campaign touting the environmental benefits of jet fuel made from waste.


Ron Adar/Zuma Press

Many airlines, corporate flyers and governments see sustainable aviation fuel—chemically similar jet fuel refined from biological waste rather than crude—as a way to reduce aviation’s contribution to global warming. It can cut emissions by up to 80% compared with conventional jet fuel, depending on the feedstock used. At least 30 airlines have promised to use SAF, usually for 10% of their fuel consumption, by 2030.

However, there are a number of challenges to widespread use. 

First, the sustainably derived fuel is typically two to four times as expensive as conventional jet fuel. Globally, jet fuel cost can be volatile but was around $2.76 a gallon as of March 3, according to the International Air Transport Association.

There is poor visibility of pricing because the market is small and supply agreements are confidential. Demand from airlines and their corporate customers is already strong, with any SAF going on the market quickly getting bought up, said Anastacia Davies, who leads data provider BloombergNEF’s global renewable fuels research.

Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act climate bill could help in tackling SAF costs. It established two separate tax credits for the fuel, starting in 2023 and 2025 and expiring at the end of 2024 and 2027, respectively. The short duration of the tax credits will likely limit their impact. United’s chief sustainability officer, Lauren Riley, said the airline is lobbying for longer-term credits. 

A second challenge to scaling SAF production is how much feedstock would be needed to replace conventional jet fuel. Airlines consumed about 80 million gallons of SAF last year, less than 1% of the more than 100 billion gallons needed to fly the world’s planes, according to the International Energy Agency.  

Production capacity for SAF is projected to rise to around 860 million gallons in 2023 and 1.51 billion gallons in 2024 under conservative estimates, according to BloombergNEF. Finnish refiner

Neste Oyj

is one of the biggest producers of SAF globally with an expected yearly capacity of around 515 million gallons by the end of this year. 

Today the fuel is largely produced from crops such as soybean, canola and rapeseed as well as used commercial cooking oils and waste animal fats. Other emerging feedstocks are municipal solid waste, algae, wood waste, alcohol and even green hydrogen. About 6 million metric tons of used cooking oil and 27 million metric tons of animal fats are traded globally every year, which would cover only around 5% of jet fuel consumption, according to BloombergNEF.

“You can’t just increase everybody’s consumption of french fries because we decide we need to double the amount of used cooking oil,” BloombergNEF’s Ms. Davies said.

Another complication is that the biological feedstocks used to produce SAF are also used to make other biofuels for hard-to-decarbonize industries such as the renewable diesel for long-haul trucking. United’s Ms. Riley said the competition for feedstock should decrease as other industries find cleaner alternatives, such as battery-powered trucks replacing those running on internal combustion engines. “Over time, I don’t think the feedstock dialogue is going to get any worse,” she said.

Aviation’s thirst for biofuel might also take away land from food production. To avoid that, many airlines say they buy SAF certified to be produced from waste or other nonfood feedstocks. Still, BloombergNEF’s Ms. Davies said airlines could indirectly increase land use if other industries don’t follow similarly strict policies.

She said one potential solution is farmers growing more cover crops—noncash crops that help improve soil health—that could increase feedstock for fuels. Another solution is synthetic fuel being developed by startups. Last year, Alaska Airlines Inc. and

Microsoft Corp.

signed an agreement to help Twelve Benefit Corp., a California startup, commercialize its electrochemical reactor that can split carbon dioxide into chemical compounds that can be turned into jet fuel. 

Battery- or hydrogen-powered planes are two other clean alternatives for airlines. However, ambitions for battery-powered flights are hampered by the significant weight of the batteries.

Hydrogen’s energy density makes it more promising as a jet fuel.

Airbus SE

is working to develop a hydrogen-powered plane to be in commercial operation by 2035. However, redesigning airplanes to run on hydrogen is a complex challenge and wouldn’t help decarbonize the existing inventory of airplanes with many years or even decades of useful life left. 

Write to Dieter Holger at dieter.holger@wsj.com

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Logistics Giant Kuehne + Nagel Seeks Expansion



The world’s largest freight forwarder by revenue has big plans for growth even as freight volumes and rates slump.

Stefan Paul,


chief executive of Switzerland-based Kuehne + Nagel International AG, is pushing ahead with a new four-year plan for the company that includes global expansion even as operating profit fell 43% in the most recent quarter as cargo volumes reset from Covid-19 pandemic highs.


Kuehne + Nagel CEO Stefan Paul.


Kuehne + Nagel

As a forwarder, Kuehne + Nagel helps companies move freight around the world by ocean, air and land and is a dominant player in the automotive, industrial, retail, aerospace, healthcare and high-tech industries. The company reported net revenues in 2022, based on average exchange rates for the year, equivalent to $41.5 billion.

Mr. Paul spoke with The Wall Street Journal about Kuehne + Nagel’s plans to expand in several markets, including select ocean-shipping routes, his focus on profitability rather than market share, and expanding omnichannel fulfillment operations in the U.S. that help retailers sell across stores and websites. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

WSJ: You are the biggest forwarder by volume in ocean trade lanes, according to research group Armstrong & Associates, yet you want to expand further. Where do you see areas for growth?

Mr. Paul: We have identified 15 lanes or country pairs, where we have a low market share or a decent share and a very attractive margin and this is where we are now allocating our sales force. I won’t tell you exactly where they are. But I can tell you that the U.S. is a very important marketplace for us. Plus, we are very focused on Korea and Japan.

WSJ: What about on land? What do you see as potential growth areas for Kuehne + Nagel in the contract logistics space?

Mr. Paul: We have two main focus areas in contract logistics. One is healthcare, where we already have a quite good position. The other one is consumer retail in the e-commerce space. And whenever it comes to e-commerce, we want to play. The likelihood that we will strengthen our position in omnichannel fulfillment for e-commerce in the U.S. is rather high in the next four years. If we cannot grow or develop solutions in the U.S. we would definitely consider M&A.

WSJ: Rising interest rates are making it harder for private equity to make acquisitions. Does that make it easier for a company like Kuehne + Nagel to jump in?

Mr. Paul: The private-equity money isn’t as important as the expectation from the seller on the price tag. As profits come down, the cost of acquisition becomes more attractive.

WSJ: Are you looking at multiple acquisitions in the omnichannel fulfillment sector or a single, big acquisition?

Mr. Paul: Only one. Because the most important puzzle piece here is, of course, customers. If you buy two or three companies then they will come with their own transportation management systems and then we would need to integrate them all. So it is better to buy a single, bigger footprint.

WSJ: There has been a great deal of interest lately in German national railway Deutsche Bahn AG possibly selling Germany-based freight forwarder DB Schenker. The billionaire Klaus-Michael Kuehne, who has a 53% stake in Kuehne + Nagel, said in a recent interview with German media that he is interested in partnering with private equity to buy Schenker. How would that affect Kuehne + Nagel?

Mr. Paul: It’s not for me to comment on his private plans. Talking about what he does with his private money is not my cup of tea, and I’m not entitled to talk about it. It’s completely separate. Sorry.

WSJ: There is also a lot of talk at the moment about companies diversifying their supply chains because of recent shocks, from Covid-19 lockdowns in China to skyrocketing freight rates and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What is your view?

Mr. Paul: I don’t believe in the word “near-shoring.” China is still the workbench of the world. It has the best infrastructure, the best setup. However, what we have seen during the last two years is that companies are trying to sure-shore. They want to have other facilities outside of China. So you have seen that Vietnam has grown significantly. We believe that India will pick up. Indonesia will get a certain share. Companies are trying to diversify their production facilities and capabilities so that they have a second or third source, just in case something happens.

Write to Paul Berger at paul.berger@wsj.com

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As Customer Problems Hit a Record High, More People Seek ‘Revenge’



Americans are encountering more problems with companies’ products and services than ever before, and a higher proportion of them are actively seeking “revenge” for their troubles, a new study has found.

Some 74% of the 1,000 consumers surveyed said they had experienced a product or service problem in the past year. That is up from 66% in 2020, when the study last was conducted, and 56% in 2017. Only 32% told researchers they had experienced a problem in 1976, when a similar version of the study was first conducted.


The percentage of consumers who have taken action to settle a score against a company through measures such as pestering or public shaming in person or online, has tripled to 9% from 3% in 2020, according to the study. That reversed a downward trend with regards to revenge-seeking behavior: The average percentage of customers seeking revenge between 2003 and 2017 was 17%. 

“It’s the idea of, if you as a company don’t really seem to care, well then I’m going to take to the streets,” said Scott Broetzmann, president and chief executive of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, which conducts the so-called National Customer Rage Survey with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The research, which builds on a study first conducted by the White House in 1976, albeit under a different name, found that 32% of complainants posted about their most serious problem on social media—more than double the proportion who did so in the 2020 study.

“Most people now are using a computer, they’re using some form of social media at this point, there’s a democratization of complaining,” Mr. Broetzmann said.

But the results echo findings from consulting firm


last year suggesting that the quality of customer experience offered by consumer-facing brands and government agencies declined in the year through April 2022. Forrester said its research studies 96,211 U.S. consumers’ perceptions of 221 organizations. 

And the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which analyzes customer satisfaction with more than 400 companies in 47 industries on a scale of 0 to 100, fell to 73.1 in 2022 from 77 in 2018, the largest decline in the index’s 28-year history. Customer satisfaction is improving in some industries, including consumer shipping, athletic shoes, soft drinks, hospitals, and online and specialty retailing, but is declining across fast food, hotels and gas stations, according to the index’s latest report. 

The rising dissatisfaction is accompanied by more frequent and aggressive complaints, according to the National Customer Rage study.

The latest wave of research found 79% of customers complained about their most serious problem to the company at fault, an increase from 72% in 2020. And 43% said they raised their voice to a customer service representative to show displeasure about their most serious problem, up from 35% in 2017, the most recent previous time the question was asked on the survey.

Customer dissatisfaction hurts companies in more ways than one, Mr. Broetzmann said.

“It’s costing companies a lot of money in future business, but there’s also the cost of servicing really angry customers,” Mr. Broetzmann said. “If you think about the average number of contacts that really angry customers are making, each time they contact a business, that costs the business money.”

Some companies have begun offering expedited customer care as a perk for their paid members, biggest spenders and most loyal fans, borrowing a strategy of airlines and credit card companies.

At the same time, more companies have been turning to automation to cut costs and cover staffing shortages in their standard customer service. Firms push customers towards phone lines and web chats that are handled by artificial intelligence or other technologies that can respond to basic requests, leaving human staff to handle the more complicated service inquiries. 

But that strategy is prone to angering customers further, the rage research found. Respondents named their top customer care frustrations as “being forced to listen to long messages before you’re permitted to speak to a representative” and “figuring out how or where to contact the company,” which covers the experience of feeling like a company is hiding its phone number. 

At the same time, 25% of respondents said they expected an explanation of why their problem occurred, 24% said they wanted an apology, and 23% said they wanted an assurance that the problem wouldn’t happen again, according to the customer rage research.

Customer service technology such as artificial intelligence is less likely to be able to deliver that craving for empathy than human agents, Mr. Broetzmann said.

“A robot cannot be kind and compassionate,” he said.


Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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How DoorDash Uses Analytics and Forecasting Amid Economic Uncertainty



DoorDash Inc.

is working to step up its analytics and ability to forecast the slowing economy’s effect on future earnings, in a move to expand the business and improve the efficiency of its divisions. 


Food-delivery companies are grappling with soaring inflation that is weighing on consumers’ spending power and experiencing slower growth than during the pandemic. San Francisco-based DoorDash in February said its net loss widened to $1.37 billion in 2022 from $468 million a year earlier, in part due to $312 million in impairment charges. Its revenue rose 35% to $6.58 billion in 2022 from the previous year. 


But DoorDash—which delivers food and other items from restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores—is optimistic about its growth. The company says it expects $500 million to $800 million in adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization this year in part due to strong consumer demand, up from $361 million in adjusted Ebitda last year. 

The company is taking a closer look at data analysis in areas such as pricing and order sizes, as guided by a nearly 200-person analytics team led by Jessica Lachs, DoorDash’s vice president of analytics and data science. Some of the analytics team’s findings are additive to adjusted Ebitda, but the outcomes are dependent on several teams, a spokesman said. 

This is happening as the oversight of DoorDash’s finances recently changed hands.

Ravi Inukonda,

the company’s vice president of finance, became its new chief financial officer effective March 1, succeeding

Prabir Adarkar,

who is now president and chief operating officer. 

Jessica Lachs, vice president of analytics and data science at DoorDash Inc.


DoorDash Inc.

WSJ’s CFO Journal talked to Ms. Lachs, who reports to Mr. Inukonda, about how analytics support DoorDash’s financial operations, particularly at a time of high economic uncertainty. Her responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

WSJ: How do you see analytics corresponding to the finance function?

Ms. Lachs: It’s all about our desire to measure as much as possible. When we roll out a new product feature or program to customers, we can run an experiment and actually quantify the true impact that it had on the business and all of those things can then get incorporated into our forecast. These features range from in-app changes like a new carousel on the home page to the performance of new machine learning algorithms to our release of the pickup map in the DoorDash app. By understanding what we’re seeing in the data, we can make better investment decisions. 

WSJ: Is the slowing economy affecting the company’s approach to forecasting?

Ms. Lachs: We are keeping a watchful eye on everything that’s happening in the market, particularly as it relates to inflation and consumer softening. A cool thing that we did that empowers our CFO to make good decisions is by building out what we call the DoorDash item price index. We have our own internal price index that tracks and measures changes in the average item price on the platform weekly. The index uses the most popular merchant items ordered on the platform. We track against the U.S. consumer-price index on a monthly basis to understand if prices on our platform are increasing at an accelerated rate compared to [the] overall prices in the economy. 

We are tracking price indices on fixed and floating baselines in order to show the marketplace’s health from different points of views. The fixed-weight index shows price changes that are independent of changes in consumer choice. The fixed-weight index will stay flat if merchants do not update prices. The floating-weight index shows price changes with the impact of consumer choice. It can change either due to merchant price updates or consumer purchase shifts.

WSJ: What is the floating-weight price index showing you? 

Ms. Lachs: Consumers are ordering fewer items per cart. But interestingly, they’re keeping higher-priced items. It makes sense because they’re more likely to be an entrée. As where you maybe had ordered an entrée and a side, now you’re just keeping the entrée. Or, if you had ordered an appetizer, two entrees and dessert, maybe you’re not going to order dessert now.

We are watching these indices and how they track to the broader CPI like a hawk because we want to make sure that any trend break we see we can incorporate into our forecasts. The net result from what we’re seeing was a slight increase in subtotals, and we incorporated that into our forecast because that is something that we expect to continue. 

WSJ: Do you have a cost-savings target associated with your analytics effort? 

Ms. Lachs: Our goal isn’t specific to savings. We will have a goal on savings that we might want to get through quality improvements, for example. By having higher quality on the platform and reducing defects, that results in less credits and refunds, which obviously has a positive impact on margins. So that may be something that we set a goal for. The teams across product, operations, engineering and analytics will have that goal. And then it’s analytics’ responsibility to identify the key drivers of defects, to really understand what’s happening on the platform so that we can figure out the big opportunities for us to improve quality so we can hit whatever the goal is that we’ve set on reducing cost. 

The analytics team’s role is a little bit more about the intelligence that we provide for the teams, the opportunities that we are able to identify and the estimated sizings based on all of the things we’ve quantified over the years on what we should expect. 

If we need to get $10 million of savings in one particular area, what is that going to consist of? Maybe it’s going to be five different projects, some of which get us $2 million and some of which give us $3 million. The analytics team, specifically the data-science team, is going to run the experiments that quantify the impact of the changes we’re making so we know which initiatives were on target and which exceed expectations. 

WSJ: Are there recent examples of analytics helping to make a particular business line more profitable?

Ms. Lachs: The experimentation the analytics team has done to help grow our grocery business is timely. The analytics team found that ensuring an item is in stock and available on the DoorDash platform is more important for consumer retention than providing a good substitution. This led to several work streams to improve inventory management for the grocery business. The team also ran some tests that resulted in increased basket sizes, which is a driver of profitability in the grocery business. 

WSJ: Does the recent CFO switch have any effect on your work? 

Ms. Lachs: The changes in leadership really were a natural evolution and I’ve worked closely with Prabir and Ravi for quite some time. The intelligence that we provide we were already showing to Ravi in his prior role, so I don’t think that anything will change. 

Write to Mark Maurer at mark.maurer@wsj.com

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