Pepsi & Timberland Take the Stage: Help Us Help Our Brand (Become Sustainable)

by Aman Singh Das | June 16, 2010

  • My Vault
Yesterday you read major takeaways from ThinkSocial and PepsiCo's #promise event. As I said, while the event may not have lived up to its potential, it did excel at providing companies with a platform to talk about their sustainability initiatives and answer questions from a live as well as virtual audience. Corporate speak or not, here are highlights from two of the presentations that better resonated than the others that leaned toward jargon and broad statements. The missing link in all of them however: The career aspect of corporate responsibility. That is, how does their new found keenness on becoming responsible citizens connect with the growing interest in CSR at business schools and among job seekers? With recruitment levels at an all time low and a lack of job descriptions that emphasize a responsible outlook, how were they planning on attracting skilled and passionate talent?

The promise of PepsiCo: Performance with Purpose

PepsiCo's Dream Machine in action

Their take: Host PepsiCo, which ranked No. 8 on Vault's Top 50 Consumer Products Employers last year, had an army of representatives in attendance. Jeremy Cage, head of their Dream Machine recycling initiative, led the string of presentations by discussing their promise toward sustainability. Calling their commitment as "delivering sustainable growth while investing in a healthy planet," Cage laid out their long term initiatives including the already-successful Refresh project ("human sustainability"), the Dream Machine ("environmental sustainability"), and the upcoming Universal Purpose Code ("corporate sustainability").

Among the many things he said, Cage most heavily emphasized on consumer and employee engagement, noting that the power of social media was already undeniably a major motivator and catalyst in their initiatives.

My take: PepsiCo has managed to take the lead in understanding the value of aligning its brand with its social and environmental stakeholders for a host of reasons. Corporate sustainability has been a practice and integrated effort at the beverage company for many years now, but received its biggest boost when current CEO and Chairman Indra Nooyi took the helm. Her priority on developing women leadership, integrating nutrition with people management and emphasizing a coordinated approach across the company toward social and corporate citizenship has played a significant part in redefining Pepsi's image. The ongoing Refresh project is one such example, where a responsible business strategy was implicit in the decision to use the budget originally allocated for Super Bowl advertising to funding winning projects through the Pepsi Refresh site.

And company executives bring her up often as the main catalyst behind change within the organization, whether that was Director of Digital and Social Media Bonin Bough (who spoke about Pepsi's CSR efforts and social media during Social Media Week), VP of Compliance, Stephen Noughton (who spoke at a recent Conference Board event on Business Ethics & Compliance) or marketing head Cage at the #promise event.

Many advocates as well as practitioners emphasize that for CSR to have real teeth and integration in a company, it must come from the top. CEO of consulting firm Korngold Consulting, Alice Korngold reiterated this in a recent interview with Vault: "CSR needs leadership from the top, since the CSR plan needs to be designed to advance the company's reputation, branding, relationship-building, and hiring and retention, leadership development, and community improvement. A high-impact CSR program supports and engages employees who are enthusiastic about improving their communities, while achieving a variety of benefits for the company and the community." At Pepsi, enough emphasis from leadership has ensured that this resonate internally as well as externally.

Timberland Earthkeepers

Timberland's Earthkeepers boots

Their take: Timberland's promise to plant 5 million trees in the next five years in Haiti and China is the extension of their commitment to environmental restoration. In her address, the company's Senior Manager for Values Marketing, Margaret Morey-Reuner took pains to emphasize that their current push was toward achieving critical mass through social media. Through their relatively new presence across platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Morey-Reuner said that the biggest lesson for them had been "the importance of stakeholder engagement at every level." Looking ahead, she said, "In the next five years, we aim to do a lot more cross collaboration in the CSR space. Realizing that social media is going to be a primary strand of fabric in the cultural fabric of companies is just the start."

Expanding on the increasing presence of social media in the work sphere, she went on to note that for a primarily consumer-facing company like Timberland ("we sell boots!") it was going to become inevitable to add a SM quotient to job performance. "I I imagine a future where the job description of every consumer-facing employee will have a social media accountability quotient attached," she added, ending with a hypothetical question that many will seek to answer in the coming years: "As social media and cause marketing expand, how are companies going to continually differentiate themselves in an already crowded space?"

My take: Timberland, who's CEO Jeff Swartz, has been known for his focus on corporate responsibility, is considered a pioneer in aligning business strategy with social accountability. From his recent smoking ban on Timberland property to promoting the company around environmental sustainability at a time when it was neither fashionable nor appreciated, Swartz has continued to defy intuitive business marketing. What they haven’t done as well is promoting and communicating their initiatives to the public.

In the absence of a social media strategy, Timberland—much like Seventh Generation—has continued to tread the responsible path, but remained out of sight. This declaration of marrying their initiatives with the power of social media then is simply sound business sense. As Morey-Reuner explained, "We realized that choosing to stay quiet about our work and failing to engage stakeholders at all levels has become more detrimental today. With so many outlets available for engagement, conversations have become necessary than a few years ago [when the mantra was,] if you stay quiet, it'll go away."

As always, please feel free to comment, email In Good Company or connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR.

Filed Under: CSR

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