Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Highlights from This Week’s BBB Forum on Corporate Responsibility

I was at this week’s 12th annual BBB Forum on Corporate Responsibility (CR) in New York, held at one of my new favorite places in the city, Scandinavia House. (If you haven’t visited, you should – it has a great gift store and an amazing Scandinavian-inspired café appropriately called Smörgås. It’s short walk from Grand Central south on Park Avenue). For those who could not attend, here are a few nuggets from the various speakers on megatrends shaping the CR agenda.
 Keynote speaker and CR veteran formerly with J&J Al Iannuzzi, who has been leading the newly amped- up sustainability efforts at The Estee Lauder Companies for the past nine months, says companies “need to up their game” in sustainability. He also “doesn’t believe there are any sustainable companies out there – [but that] sustainability is a journey.” 
By the end of 2025, all Estee Lauder brands – from Aveda to Tory Burch – will be tied to a social or environmental cause, he shared.  Each brand also will have annual sustainability objectives, targets and metrics, and an annual sustainability scorecard that gets incorporated into an enterprise-wide scorecard.
Estee Lauder is also serious about transparency as part of its strategy to win and maintain customer trust. All brands will disclose ingredients and their purpose on the brand’s website. Also, look for the company to release new sustainability goals this September around energy and efforts to further reduce the environmental impacts of their products through green chemistry.
Jamie Martin, Executive Director of Global Sustainable Finance at Morgan Stanley, confirmed that ESG investing is not a trend but is here to stay. He shared his excitement over the proliferation of green and sustainable bonds from companies such as Unilever, Toyota and Starbucks, saying investors are “gobbling” them up. “They are a great way to push a company forward from both a financial and sustainability standpoint,” he said.
Etsy’s Head of Global Advocacy and Policy, Althea Erickson, was particularly interesting, sharing how the company strives to the be the policy voice of its sellers in Washington on issues that affect them and their businesses such as taxation and economic security. Another highlight she shared were the company’s efforts to address barriers to entrepreneurship such as  hosting skill-building workshops at low-income housing centers. She also touched on Etsy’s strategy to offset 100 percent of its emissions generated by client shipments, saying this is only the beginning of their journey and hoping that larger online players will follow their example.  Next up for Etsy is helping their sellers build sustainability into their own supply chains.
Among the many interesting points from Andre Fourie, Global Director of Water Sustainability at Anheuser-Busch InBev, was an example of how the company partnered with the government in Cape Town, South Africa, to address last year’s water crisis. Leveraging their expertise in water management, the company helped isolate leaks throughout the city’s water system and help address pressure challenges.  Such partnership, he noted, helps build strong community ties and trust, which are important during times of crisis.
Perhaps the best discussion, however, was with Julia Wilson, Nielsen’s energetic Vice President of Global Responsibility & Sustainability, who has been on the speaking circuit this past year with the message that, when done right, sustainability sells. 
She urged CR/sustainability professionals to “find new opportunities for growth across the spectrum of sustainability” by determining what sustainability claims or attributes resonate most to their customers and then put these insights into actions with brand teams. “When you bring sustainability insights to the table and they translate into wins for the business, you’ll be invited back to the table.”
Caroline Rees, President and Co-Founder of the Shift Project, which specializes in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, shared why attention to human rights is not just important from a risk management perspective, but can be the single most important way an organization is able to positively impact the “people” component of its sustainability strategy. 
The final speaker of the day gave an impassioned discussion on plastic waste, citing that unless there is dramatic change, an additional 104 MMT of plastic pollution could enter our ecosystem by 2030 – the equivalent of 17 million elephants. Australian native and Manager of Climate Change and Sustainability Services at EY, Jamie Lee Mattison, shared examples of how companies are responding by turning the threat of plastic waste into an opportunity. She cited among others Coke’s pledge to collect and recycle 100 percent of solid packaging by 2030.
I have to say that all the speakers were really great and offered unique insights. Well worth a half day in New York on a lovely day in June.  

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