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How does a big box retailer tackle these aspirational corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals amid a recession, a possible energy crisis, and limited consumer spending?
For Best Buy, this has meant facing a multidimensional reality that resource conservation and sustainability are no longer optional, feel-good initiatives with few ramifications if ignored.
Or as CEO Brian Dunn recently put it, “Sustainability might be a 'nice to have' today but tomorrow will be an operating requirement."
Their strategy: To go out and get their hands dirty.
After intensive soul-searching, conducting over 60 in-depth interviews with various stakeholders, investigating another 60 sustainability issues and how they impact the company’s future, a lengthy materiality assessment, and some research help from Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Best Buy pinpointed targets that would benefit from their attention and that they could follow through on:
Today, the electronics retailer released its 2011 Sustainability Report.
The report, rich with data, comprehensive in scope and powerful in its messaging is an accomplishment in many ways, but especially as a exemplary effort at practicing what you preach, the good, the bad and the ugly.
In an exclusive early look at their report, I noticed this excerpt:
“At Best Buy, we devote a lot of resources to learning about our customers. We use that information to develop and bring technology solutions that matter to you—including solutions that help you live more sustainably.”
“Customer satisfaction and your likeliness to recommend us are two ways we judge how successful we are as a business. This past year, we took customer research to a new level by forming a global Consumer Insights Unit (CIU). This new team developed the award-winning VOCE (Voice Of the Customer through the Employee) program that focuses on gaining insights through our employees.”
“We also reach out to you through online and social media networks like TwelpForce (Twitter) and IdeaX (an online forum) and through customer service centers and surveys.”
Fair enough. Product stewardship and consumer education have for long been a struggle for retailers who offer choice but often don’t follow up with informed context.
By using a combination of technology and staff, Best Buy is engaging customers not only on educated decisions but also helping them understand the nuts and bolts of the long term sustainability of their purchases.
And it’s no small task. After all, how many of us think of recycling, power usage, fair trade, and energy conservation when choosing a laptop? Here’s where Best Buy’s Geek Squad and the “people in the blue shirts” jump in.
But consumers aren’t the only ones the company is actively looking to engage and empower.
As the report exemplifies, Dunn and his team are living up to their promise of listening internally as well.
As one of very few Fortune 500 CEOs to use social media intensively for this very purpose, Dunn recently said, “If you actually spend some time and roll up your sleeves, people will tell you what's good about what they do [at Best Buy] and what's not good about their job. And man that's precious."
For Mary Capozzi, Best Buy’s senior director for corporate responsibility, nothing could be more crucial than investing in employee education and training. “Our employees are crucial in our ability to deliver sustainable solutions to our customers. They link what we do as a business with the need of our customers,” she said.
But how does the company ensure its employees know they work for a company that is conscious of its carbon footprint as well as employee diversity?
Transparency, says Capozzi. She elaborated:
“The most important thing we did this past year to get the word out to our employees about sustainability was the creation of our Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Scorecard. The Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Scorecard is designed to give our employees visibility to metrics that help them see how their efforts are driving business outcomes and sustainability objections.”
“The Scorecard tracks the impact in four key areas, including community giving and volunteer efforts, recycling, store energy performance and sales of Energy Star rated products.”
“We also have a communication magazine called the Link that goes to each of our stores every other month. The July-August edition, entitled Doing Our Part, not only contains our 10 page summary of the report but many stores that reflecting the work of our store teams and additional information for them about our sustainability program.”
And it doesn’t stop there.
Capozzi went on to say that, in fact, “every corporate employee received a copy of the summary and will receive, through our employee news updates, the announcement and link to the report on line.”
The report, no doubt is snazzy, visually appealing, and intuitively navigable. It has clearly been created to appeal to a very diverse audience, but perhaps most importantly, for the employees.
“We’ve created a launch plan specifically aimed at bringing this report to life for our employees. Our sustainability report will be a focal point of upcoming Lunch & Learn sessions and it will be part of our Global Town Hall session in early August. We also have many other internal communications in place to not only ensure our employees engage with the Sustainability report, but feel empowered to ask questions and provide feedback.”
For a company that understands its footprint in society, the environment, and internally, sustainability has always meant more than recycling and energy conservation at Best Buy.
As Dunn describes it, “Best Buy is about the people in the blue shirts.” And the report captures this emphasis effectively and articulately.
I asked Capozzi what the biggest advantage of putting such a comprehensive non-financial report together is for Best Buy, considering it involves a cost, requires resources, and perhaps, most importantly, isn’t mandatory. Does it help with retention? Brand management? Benchmarking opportunities? Or credible accountability?
None of these, she said. “The biggest advantage of putting together the report is the internal dialogue around innovation, the focus on goals and the realization of challenges,” she added.
“Reporting brings a discipline to our efforts. It’s a snapshot in time but an important moment for us to reflect and push forward. As the old saying goes – what gets measured gets done. Through our sustainability efforts, we’ve been able to grow our business, eliminate waste and reinvigorate our employees to improve the customer experience.”
“By continuing to evolve our Sustainability reporting, we hope to continue working together with stakeholders to bring to life creative and sustainable solutions that are meaningful to our customers, good for our business and better for the environment.”
While Capozzi, Dunn and their teams are making clear progress, it isn’t all a bed or roses for the electronics retailer.
When a company sets high targets, failure and mistakes become important learning opportunities. “Not only is [the report] meant to celebrate the progress we’ve made with our sustainability efforts so far, it also outlines the challenges we still face. We know we are on a journey of continuously challenging ourselves and improving our business.”
The role Best Buy can play in solving several key concerns around electronic waste, rapidly rising cost of energy and a lack of access to technology and its many benefits to a major percentage of the world’s population isn’t lost on Capozzi.
“We know our customers are on this same journey. This report is both aimed at bringing our efforts to life for our customers but also show them some of the initiatives we already have in place to help them in their journey. Of course we are also inviting them and our other stakeholders to engage with us and challenge our thinking to ensure we continue to improve and innovate. The Consumer Electronics Industry faces growing concerns...and as the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer, finding solutions to these challenges will be key to our future success.”
To extend the interactive intention of the report, Best Buy is hosting a webinar next week to offer insights on its 2011 Sustainability Report and answer your questions. I will be on hand facilitating the dialogue, so tune in during your lunch hour [11:30am CT/12:30pm ET] on Thursday, July 21st, for an opportunity to hear from Capozzi and her team members on the why(s), what(s) and how(s) of the report.
Meanwhile, if you have a burning question for the Best Buy team, connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR or email me and I’ll make sure it’s asked. Remember that Best Buy -- like Wal-mart -- has the scale to have real impact socially, economically and environmentally, and this is your opportunity to influence them.
To download Best Buy’s 2011 Sustainability Report, visit Best Buy Sustainability. And don’t forget to weigh in by leaving a comment.
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