As heard at the Financial Times' annual conference on Investing in a Sustainable Future.
On the panel: Northern Trust's EVP for CSR Connie Lindsey, Hess Corporation's Director of CSR Paula Luff, Subaru's Director of Corporate Communications Michael McHale, and Corporate Responsibility Officers' Association (CROA) President Richard Crespin.
Playing moderator was Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) Director of Marketing Communications and Corporate Partnerships Melanie Janin.
- Lead, Don't React: It's important to stay ahead of issues than be reactive all the time, said Leff. "We need to be on the table as part of the solution or face being served for lunch." An understatement by any measure since CSR in itself has emerged as a reactionary movement. Companies that were founded with an implicit culture of transparency and accountability (Timberland, Seventh Generation and Stonyfield Farms, etc.) are being exemplified today because of this very tendency of staying ahead of the curve.
- Heightened Awareness: Lindsey emphasized that engagement is key to pushing any cultural or procedural change off the ground. She offered her appointment as an example: "Having to explain why a senior executive is leading CSR fulltime instead of selling to clients," created a lot of buzz and heightened the awareness among employees and management on the acuteness of CSR. Although, she added, "we are still in the process of validating this stuff across the board."
- Meeting Expectations Isn't the Goal; Doing the Right Thing Is: "PR and marketing cannot make people love companies," said Leff, adding, "At the end of the day meeting these expectations isn't the right goal. This is an operations issue," adhering to McHale's point earlier that doing the right thing leads automatically to favorable reviews.
- Should Companies Have an Explicit CSR Policy? For McHale this is more of an emerging demand issue than a regulatory tool. "We didn’t need a CSR policy because we've been doing it anyway. But today we are putting one in place because our suppliers, our customers, and our employees are demanding one."
- Terminology: Oh yes, that again. What is a panel without the age-old battle over terminology surfacing at least once? Lindsey, credibly, brought up the fact that "when you use the terms 'initiative' or 'program,' we're automatically separating it from business." The panel's solutions? "CSR should sit where we can have the most impact" and "Be less reactive, more proactive."
3 Challenges for CSR Executives
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