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Forging True Corporate Citizenship & Sustainability

By Tom Watson on November 14, 2007No Comment

To provide corporate leaders with case studies of companies that are paving the way, the Conference Board hosts the Global Corporate Citizenship & Sustainability Seminars for two days each October.    Seminar I, Leading 21st Century Corporate Citizenship, was dedicated to exploring the role of partnerships, research, communications, and branding as it relates to creating an integrated business strategy for corporate citizenship.  Seminar II, Taking A Giant Leap Toward Sustainability, highlighted the strategies companies are using to transform their business models and incorporate new technologies to protect the environment and drive growth.   Abbott, IBM, Dow, Intel, BT Americas, UTC Power, Turner Construction Company and others shared their experiences and provided practical examples of the bold steps companies are taking to change business as usual. 

A few key insights from the Seminars include the following:

Partnerships, in all forms, play a critical role in achieving success.  Partnerships between corporations, nonprofit organizations, and the public sector can be instrumental in addressing many of today’s greatest challenges.  Partnerships provide opportunities for pivotal synergies which can increase efficiencies and maximize results. Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Office of Partnerships, explained that partnerships work when there is clear understanding of the objectives and desired end results for each participant.  There should also be an appreciation for the partner’s culture and an assessment of how the individual assets can be leveraged to support the collaboration.  For companies specifically, Dossal believes that leadership skills, management expertise, logistical skills and participation in public discourse can help the UN as it continues to invest in the developing world. Dossal also recommends that partnerships “start small” by engaging in a pilot phase, evaluating the work, making the necessary adjustments, and then expanding the project. 
        
Leverage corporate identity and values to increase reputation.  The infusion of a company’s identity and values with its business strategy can create a framework for how a company operates and how its employees make decisions.  Susan Beverly, Manager of Global Citizenship and Policy at Abbott, shared the ways in which the company’s values are translated into its work , and how that has fueled changes in the customers’ experience and perception of Abbott.  Beverly noted, “If we don’t define who we are, someone else will do it for us.” 

Driving the point home, Beverly discussed Abbott’s HIV/AIDS Access Strategy which exemplifies how major departments (e.g., R&D, marketing, etc.) joined with philanthropy to help increase access to testing and affordable HIV treatments in Africa and elsewhere. Some of the program’s results include major improvements in the health infrastructure in Tanzania and Malawi, comprehensive training for over 4,000 health care professionals, and access to testing and counseling for more than 130,000 people.  Work of this nature has helped Abbott to shape its reputation as a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, strengthening a brand that fuels growth for the company and contributes to its philanthropic initiatives.  

Partnerships with technical support and program management consultants can help companies develop a viable plan to address sustainability. There has been a growing number of firms and consulting practices established in the United States that are focused on climate change issues.  The goal of these organizations is to help provide solutions and plans for companies to improve and be accountable for their environmental stewardship.  Two such organizations, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and the CarbonNeutral Company highlighted their work at the Seminar.       

CCX is the world’s first and North America’s only active voluntary, legally binding trading system to reduce emissions of the six greenhouses gases (GHG).  To date, CCX has over 350 members from all industry sectors committed to meeting annual greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, a system that is subject to audit by the NASD. CCX oversees a number of offset projects in North America and around the world in landfill and agricultural methane destruction, carbon sequestration, and renewable energy.  Through CCX’s relationship with leading verifiers, a company can incorporate a systematic process that inventories and accounts for its carbon footprint; those who emit above the annual GHG emission reduction targets comply by purchasing CCX Carbon Financial Instrument® (CFI™) contracts, each of which represents 100 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

The CarbonNeutral Company has established offices in the United States after more than 10 years of providing consulting services to corporations in the United Kingdom. Mark Armitage, President for United States operations, suggests that more companies are taking action as they come to understand the connection between greater operational efficiency and how that results in lower costs and increased revenues.  The call to action is stimulated by consumer demand, increased regulation, the war for talent, and shareholder value, among others.  Armitage cautions that corporations should ensure that the offsetters they work with are reputable.  He recommends taking a careful look at the processes, guarantees, experiences, and standards used by the consultant when making a selection for a vendor.

The work of these two firms, as well as others, helps to drive the transition to low carbon technologies in corporate operations.  And although there is still some confusion or misinterpretation about the various standards that exist worldwide for GHG emissions, both firms expressed hope that their work will contribute to the creation of a global standard that companies can rally behind to address climate change. 

Green innovation can improve operational efficiencies and increase revenues.  Companies like BT Americas and Turner Construction Company have taken considerable steps to redefine their business models and services in the marketplace.  Like people, companies may experience resistance to change, particularly when it alters how resources are consumed, but the ability to demonstrate the value of change can lead to sustainable practices and behaviors.  Since 1995, Turner has completed (or is now completing) over 220 projects with green building elements.   In 2006 alone, the company saw a 24% increase in sales in the growth of green building projects. Turner’s commitment to being green has translated into increasing the number of employees who have LEED accreditation, the incorporation of a construction waste recycling program, and the development of a corporate sustainability statement. 

Similarly, BT Americas has been recognized for reducing its GHG emissions by 60% since 1996 and has aimed to reduce it to 80% by 2016.  This includes all dimensions of its carbon footprint, from network and data centers to air and rail travel.  Kevin Moss, Head of Corporate Responsibility, stated that BT figured out how to change its operations to decrease the consumption of energy and do it in a way that would still achieve the corporation’s business objectives.  The company’s approach to the process included an examination not only of its direct emissions but also of those which are indirect.  BT has moved toward using electronic formats, emphasizing a dematerialization philosophy within the company. In addition, the company has sought to replace travel with teleconferencing, which has led to the avoiding of approximately 55,000 tons of carbon emissions in 2006.  BT has also recently invested in the development of a wind energy farm to help support its future energy needs and combat the demands for energy supply in the United Kingdom.

As companies look for guidance in their efforts to maximize their corporate citizenship and sustainability efforts, a good place to start is with each other.  By sharing best practices and personal experiences, the companies who presented at this year’s Seminars gave participants an inside view on the new models available to them.

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