Thursday, October 31, 2019
I attended this week’s 3BL Forum themed Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next and heard from more than 90 corporate responsibility professionals and NGO experts over two amazing days.
Given this is the height of conference season and we can’t all be everywhere, I wanted to share a few of the learnings and comments that I found particularly insightful. Enjoy!
Does it ever feel like you are being pressured to sign on to every petition and join in every cause? Well Eileen Boone, EVP of Corporate Social Responsibility, CVS Health, thinks differently. She shared with attendees her perspective: “Just because it’s the issue of the day doesn’t mean you have to jump in…If you can’t bring resources to the issue , don’t do it. People will see it’s not authenticate.“
Whoever said CSR was easy? “Being in the CSR space, is a challenge. Every side of every issue is going to get more sophisticated going forward,” said Tim McClimon, President, American Express Foundation and SVP, American Express.
Timberland shared details of its recently launched What’s different about the campaign is that it involves consumers. “The campaign is a call-to-action to engage people in small, everyday actions that make a difference and help create a greener world,” Atlanta McIlwraith, Senior Manager of Community Engagement and Communication, Timberland, shared. "The small actions add up, and as many people do small actions, you get a movement—and it is movements that change the world."
Is it possible for a perfume to solve the world’s greatest challenges? According to Kip Cleverley, Vice President of Global Sustainability at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), it is. Speaking during the first day of 3BL Forum, Cleverley shared his company’s pursuit to focus not simply on doing less bad – for example, by reducing water use, something they have done – but by doing more good. And what’s really cool is he’s working with actress and environmentalist Michele Pfeiffer to do it. Curious? Read more in my Triple Pundit coverage.
Perhaps my favorite speaker of the Forum – and not just because he gave out free ice cream to all attendees, although that certainly helped – was Matthew McCarthy, CEO of the iconic brand Ben & Jerry’s, who said “If your company is not doing something to deal with a global issue it is probably dead.”
While I am all for plant-based diets, I was interested to hear from Stewart Leeth, VP of Regulatory Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer at Smithfield Foods, that they are working with local farms in their supply chain to convert manure into biogas to create a second revenue source for struggling U.S. farmers.
Amanda Gardiner, Director of Social Responsibility at Verizon, announced that the company is working on a new CSR framework that will be based on “radical transparency” and partnerships and will include new targets. Not surprising given the refreshing focus on CSR by their new CEO Hans Vestberg. Watch out for an announcement next year.
According to the new 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study shared at the Forum, Gen Zers believe they are the key to pushing forward on the world’s top social and environmental issues, from climate change to gun control. And they are willing to roll up their sleeves and participate. Around three-quarters stand ready to support companies that care in a variety of ways, including: sharing their positive opinion about a company doing good (85 percent), buying a product with a social or environmental benefit (84 percent) and learning what they can do to make a difference (also 84 percent). Check out my article on Triple Pundit for more details.
Kimberly Davis, EVP, Social Impact at the National Hockey League, shared how the League is helping local ice rink operators and owners invest in new sustainable, energy efficient technologies so they can stay open. And the NHL is offering tips on how fans can be more sustainable in their lives. Very cool.
And last but not least, I loved a quote from Mona Amodeo, Author of Beyond Sizzle: The Next Evolution of Branding, who said she likes to think of the shift in focus from “looking at a company’s environmental footprint – measuring negative impacts -- to focusing on their environmental handprint – measuring positive impacts.”
Monday, October 21, 2019
It’s always interesting, I think, to speak with someone involved in corporate responsibility who did not start off in the corporate sector. Often they bring a different perspective to the conversation and expertise to their work. That was certainly the case when I spoke recently with Jane Madden, Managing Partner of Global Sustainability and Social Impact at Finn Partners.
Jane is a former World Bank staffer and NGO board member with 25 years of experience in 30 countries. From her office in Chicago, Jane talked with me about how her past work has influenced her, the role of business in addressing global issues, and trends that she believes are here to stay.
MK: You worked for nearly 12 years at the World Bank before jumping into the corporate world. How did that shape your vision of business in society and lead you on this path?
JM: My work at the World Bank not only shaped my view but it drove my decision to move from the public to the corporate sector. I experienced first hand how companies are crucial to economic development by providing jobs and services. But I also saw that businesses weren’t always working in the best interest of society — some where not providing health services to employees, some were not taking care of workers on the front line [eg, in high-risk industries such as mining]. Moreover, this behavior was not in the best interest of the companies themselves. It dawned on me that there was much to be done to help companies and using the power of the private sector to drive positive economic, social and environmental results. Integrating sustainability into the business model and bottom line would ensure that it would be long-lasting and not a collection of one-off projects. So the evolution from advising governments on emerging ESG issues to advising companies has actually been very linear.
MK: As a communications professional, you help clients raise awareness of their positive impacts. But, there is always the risk of green washing, blue washing, etc. What is your approach when you suspect this may be happening?
JM: We see green, blue, pink, SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] washing … a lot comes out of good intentions. But for this [corporate responsibility] to work, it has to be integrated into the business. My approach is always to, first, talk to the client and ask for the data — It’s all about data. Clients need to support their ESG or SDG claims with performance numbers. I ask them “Do you have goals? How does this program help achieve those goals?” The second part, I always counsel clients to be honest and modest when making their claims. That includes being transparent and talking about challenges when they don’t make their goals. If you didn’t [make your goal], you should say why you didn’t, what happened, and what you are doing to change — just like when a company doesn’t make its financial goals, it needs to be the same approach. You actually get a lot of credit when you talk about challenges — it ultimately builds trust.
MK: Have you seen an evolution in how clients are approaching CSR?
JM: Ten years ago, clients said to us “We do all these great things but we don’t get any credit.” We saw a lot of cause marketing and one-off corporate giving and community programs that were not integrated into the business. Now, clients are saying they need to develop a strategy because their board of directors, CEO, or investors are asking for this. It’s not only about the communications, but about integrating ESG performance into their business — this has been a huge shift.
We are also seeing more mainstream investors looking at sustainability. If you look at materiality analyses, philanthropy is a much lower priority than say cybersecurity, climate change and resiliency and attracting and retaining the best talent. There remains an expectation of community engagement and giving, but it’s not critical to the core business. We’re seeing more focus on and interest in ESG strategies that are integrated into the business and operations. For corporate responsibility to get results, it needs to achieve business goals by mitigating risk and maximizing opportunity.
MK: What are effective ways for companies to bring the voice of stakeholders into their businesses? Why is it so important?
JM: It depends, of course, on the company, but I always say engage with your stakeholders early and often to understand the needs of a particular group. NGO’s will have different questions, demands, and concerns than employees, investors, unions or regulators. Companies need to map their stakeholders and develop an engagement calendar to share information and to listen. You learn so much by listening. Engagement has to be a two-way street — it’s not just sending out email alerts. Of course, you can’t meet with everyone, but by prioritizing your stakeholders and their issues, you can develop your strategy. It’s also important to engage with your critics. You may not like what you hear, but you need to hear it.
MK: Let’s turn to the environment. What corporate actions stand out? What more is needed?
JM: Corporations —not all, but many -- are making changes and certainly Fortune 500 companies were a strong force behind the Paris Accord. They saw it as beneficial to their business. After President Trump was elected, we saw dozens of CEOs write to him urging him to stay in. These companies are not going back on their commitments. They want a level playing field and more companies to make climate commitments.
But companies need to do more. Policies and commitments are the first step. Then there must be action — and it must be more than carbon credits and planting trees. It has to be integrating environmental goals into business strategy. We are seeing companies taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions and also produce products with lower environmental impacts — low-carbon products, or products that use less water. And we also see real leaders such as Microsoft, which has put a price on carbon, and Adidas, which has been practicing environmental accounting for years.
- Name an industry that needs to do more in ESG: Extractives
- What should leaders do more of? Integrate ESG performance into their business.
- What should they do less of? Take stands on issues not central to their core business.
- What trend will continue in 2020? Interest from mainstream investors in ESG.
Friday, October 11, 2019
Friday, October 4, 2019
His work with Good Business has covered a wide range of areas -- from a behavior change smoking campaign in Botswana, a large-scale consumer research project in Europe to understand parents’ attitudes to healthy living, to a social brand marketing campaign to protect Arctic habitats.
But 20 years on, he is concerned that progress has not come far enough. Below, we discuss his frustrations, the reason for urgency, and his call to action for today’s business leaders.
MK: You’ve been working in the “sustainability movement” for more than 20 years. What has been achieved?
GG: Our honest answer right now is nowhere near enough. Yes, things have changed. No longer are we forced to make “the business case” for putting sustainability on the agenda ad infinitum. And that’s because it is on the agenda, and firmly so.
Nearly every big company worth its salt understands what its main environmental and social impacts are and is actively managing them. They have CR functions and teams, which are integrated into the business (with varying degrees of success) and which have a seat on the Board. And a great many of them have articulated a purpose for their business that builds from the value it brings to the world. They have ambitions, and targets and publish progress against them. They engage with their stakeholders. They talk about their values, and many really mean it when they talk about how much all this means to them and how much they care.
But the sense of progress is in many ways a mirage. And any complacency or sense of self-congratulation would most definitely be mis-placed. Because none of what’s been done so far has created anything like the change we need.
MK: You are saying that business has not gone far enough driving the sustainability agenda?
GG: Business, when all is said and done, is not doing enough to match the change that is needed. The big businesses that have engaged have been delivering slow and steady incremental change when what we need is a thunderbolt of transformation. “Responsible” business has turned out to be as boring as it sounds. It doesn’t have to be. The opportunity for companies big or small to make transformational change and benefit hugely from their actions is a proven case. We need to inspire every business to take up this challenge. What is exciting is the new millennial start-ups have much of this thinking baked into the way they do business. Watch out big business! The challenger brands are coming to get you.
MK: What’s driving the current sense of urgency?
GG: There is the severity and scale of the problems we face. We can’t keep saying we’ve got 20 years to save the world because the time will run out. From the carbon zero commitment to the SDG deadline, horizons for delivery are drawing ever closer, not so the action they demand.
There’s also a massive new wave of will. For the first time in history, consumers and culture are in the lead on all this, demanding action and change.
Business is no longer in control of where it sits on the sustainability ambition slider, or even which impacts it should lead on. Take plastic. Culture has catapulted it onto everyone’s agenda. Whatever the sector, whatever your business, you need to address it. And it’s not just plastic. We’re seeing a whole new wave of these “horizontals” -- issues that spring from the ground and which every business, in every sector needs to sit up and act on. Diversity. Health. Climate. When it comes to the horizontals there is nowhere to hide.
MK: Where does this leave big, established businesses, the ones which haven’t yet demonstrated they can move in tune with the new times?
GG: Well they are actually in a very good place to make this work. The fundamentals are in place. As we said at the beginning, most companies are already doing the groundwork. They are managing their core issues and impacts. And this is more important than ever. For one thing it means that they will be prepared for the horizontals that will continue to come. Even if they haven’t made them a priority, they will be on the radar. And for another, it means that they can be the grown up – standing in contrast to the newcomers, who have oriented themselves around one issue – because they have everything covered. Their basic responsibility approach is comprehensive and coherent, and they’ve dealt with some of the complex issues that simply take time to get in order.
What they need to do – and do with determination and urgency – is to step up to the new challenges of our times. Build from the foundations they have built and launch into real leadership. No longer is there time to be cautious. The winners will be the ones that go for it. That fix their sights on their role in a more progressive capitalist system that delivers, and which put it all over the front door. You almost can’t be too strong or go too far because if you don’t someone else well. The real danger is bland action that disappears without trace.
MK: What is your advice looking forward?
GG: So, let’s draw a mark in the sustainability sand. We’re campaigning for January 2020 to act as a moment in time. For us to accept we’re at Ground Zero.
We think businesses should take this moment and use it as a catalyst for change on a totally new scale. Let’s start by rebasing sustainability targets to a January 2020 start point. Demonstrate acceptance that what has gone before isn’t anywhere near enough and create a very real and practical reset. And let’s also make sure that we move forward with a holistic view of sustainability and start applying the same rigor that science-based targets brought to environmental impacts to social ones – the SDGs provide as good a benchmark of success as the Paris Agreement on carbon does.
Our own personal commitment is to use every opportunity we have to help businesses create the change we need. To go further and faster, to raise their ambitions, and think about where January 2020’s new start will take them. The next decade is all about action.
And the best news is that is not too late, yet. A more positive future for capitalism and businesses really is within our grasp – in a way it never has been before. There is a fierce urgency to now. We want to make the most of it.