Wondering if the panel would promise much beyond a pit of jargon and terminology, I ventured into "CSR Solutions: Leveraging Mainstream Experience for Maximum Impact" on Day 3 of Net Impact.
[The list of panelists was certainly impressive: Tod Arbogast, VP for sustainability and CSR with Avon; Chris Librie, director for global sustainability with SC Johnson; Rich Frazier, VP for supply chain with Coca-Cola; and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Director for Corporate Responsibility Tim Mohin as the moderator.]
The panelists, despite an unwieldy titled panel, hit several noteworthy points about job hunting in CSR, working in cross functional sustainability, and how pursuing corporate responsibility has added to their professional development. To his credit, Mohin—who I had the opportunity to chat with briefly at last week's BSR conference—did an excellent job of eliciting candid answers and realistic observations from the panelists, successfully keeping 'company talk' to a minimum.
1. Job Skills: Be Pragmatic, Not Just Passionate
Mohin started the discussion by asking the panelists to highlight one key skill they felt was vital in their respective career paths. Avon's Arbogast offered three essential skills: Pragmatism, the ability to recognize a need and turning it into a business strategy, and the ability to influence your organization. "Passion doesn’t result in action. You must replace that with pragmatism to have real impact," he advised.
Librie offered similar perspective: "Connecting sustainability with the commercial side of the business is very important. Some have real ROIs so they are easy sells, but others are harder because they build brand value but have much slower ROI," he said.
Coca-Cola's Frazier--who began his career at the company as a second shift supervisor--emphasized the importance of practical industry experience. Also top of his list was how much risk you are willing to take with senior leadership and the naysayers.
2. Job Hunting: Choose Your Employer Carefully
When it comes to tactics for choosing an employer, all the panelists were clearly on the same page. Their No. 1 piece of advice: Have the proper educational backing and join a company that embeds sustainability through its departments and ranks.
That translates to not looking for positions in sustainability, so much as positions where there is an opportunity to drive sustainability as part of the job. As Arbogast put it "Drive sustainability through the function you are passionate about. Do the math, the research, the consulting, because there just aren’t enough sustainability jobs."
Librie echoed that sentiment, noting that "If a company is committed to sustainability, every employee will push sustainability." (That theme occurred several times at Net Impact: for example, Walmart's VP for Sustainability Miranda Ballentine raised it in a previous panel.)
3. Job Performance: Competition Drives Sustainability
While the panel agreed on a number of points, they weren't entirely on the same page: opposing viewpoints emerged while answering a question from the audience on how much competition played into their pursuit of corporate social responsibility. While Arbogast insisted their outlook was collaborative competition, Mohin iterated that there is undoubtedly industry-wide competition but that it was good and necessary for companies.
4. CSR Careers: Stay outside the Sustainability Department
In response to the advice about looking for a job outside companies' sustainability departments, an MBA student in the audience asked what other departments end up becoming major contributors to the success of CSR. Answers included supply chain, marketing, and research and development.
A follow-up question then asked to how hard it is to move from sustainability to other roles—and vice versa. This gave rise to another difference in opinion: According to Frazier, if sustainability is embedded within a company, transition between roles is possible. "Also worth remembering is that most companies don’t functionalize sustainability. It is a part of your job, regardless of department," he said.
However, Librie warned that working within the sustainability departments—usually small in number—can be limiting to one's career. Backing him up, Mohin added, "It can be very limiting to start your career in sustainability, although the field is maturing. Still, most companies continue to see this as a very niche role."
5. Job Satisfaction: Sustainability and Career Development
The question: Has pursuing sustainability given panelists and their employees career satisfaction? While Frazier admitted that it had been gratifying to see how employees increasingly demand sustainability and the opportunity to engage over the years, Arbogast said that the idea of a values-based organization "is huge and growing. It is slowly becoming the new normal, and is driving talent and career choices increasingly."
Mohin had a much more down-to-earth view: "There is probably no other job that requires you to justify the ROI for your role every day of the job."
Next: Choicest quotes from a controversial panel on Conscious Capitalism
Previous posts from Net Impact 2010:
Diversity is a Necessary Job Skill, Not an HR Policy
5 Questions That Will Change the MBA
The Sustainability Jobs Debate
Want to be found by top employers? Upload Your Resume
Join Gold to Unlock Company Reviews