A theme emerged from the 2013 International Corporate Citizenship Conference general sessions of the many ways companies are making a difference in business, in communities and in society. Center for Corporate Citizenship Executive Director Katherine V. Smith opened the day by reminding attendees that it was Earth Day, a time when all sectors and people recognize how they can make a difference in the environmental sustainability of the planet and eco-system we all share.
Four young people shared their stories of how The Travelers Companies, Inc., has made a difference in their lives through the EDGE (Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment) education initiative to increase the number of underrepresented students getting bachelor’s degrees and starting careers in insurance and financial services. At the end of the 2011-12 school year, of 195 students financially supported by EDGE, 81 percent were enrolled and on track to graduate or had already graduated with bachelor’s degrees.
Timothy R. Baer, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Target, talked about how the company has been making a difference in communities since its founding as the Dayton Dry Goods Company in 1902. But he cited a more recent example that occurred in the Boston area last week in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and investigation. Baer shared a thank you note from the Boston Police Department to Target for making the parking lot of its Watertown, Mass., store available as a command post and supplying food and water to officers involved in the exhaustive manhunt in that Boston suburb.
Baer explained that while Target’s tradition of supporting communities is a long one, there has been a monumental shift in its approach due to changes in community expectations. This redesign involves:
- Prioritizing reputation
- Leveraging business strengths
- Co-creating with partners
- Tracking and reporting
- Listening and sharing the company’s story
With this new approach, Target has focused on three areas: Education, sustainability, and public safety. While Target’s approach has changed, its commitment has not. “We do well by doing good and those two things work in harmony for us,” Baer said.
For Denise Morrison, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Campbell Soup Company, corporate citizenship is an expression of her personal values and a desire to make a difference. It is a principle that took root when she was a young girl in New Jersey and held a penny carnival with her sister Maggie to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. This Boston College alumna told how these values developed further as she learned about leadership, ethics and service to others from the Jesuits at her alma mater.
Morrison and Campbell’s commitment to making a difference is voiced in a statement about how Campbell’s works: “We will positively contribute to building and sustaining a safe, diverse, inclusive, engaged and socially responsible workplace focused on delivering business results with integrity.” This plays out in Campbell’s CSR Corporate Imperative 2020 Destination Goals of nourishing consumers, nourishing neighbors, nourishing employees, and nourishing the planet.
“I believe companies can make a profit and can make a difference and that is what we are doing at Campbell’s,” Morrison said. She commented that the efforts of employees and companies have a multiplier effect that enables wonderful things to happen. “And this is mmmm, mmmm good,” she added.
Altria is a company that has taken steps that make a difference in communities and in how it engages stakeholders. The parent company of three leading tobacco companies faces unique challenges.
Jennifer Hunter, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Altria Client Services, told of how Altria, then known as Phillip Morris, went from being recognized by Fortune magazine as the second most admired company in 1990 to less than 10 years later being identified by BusinessWeek as one of most reviled.
Hunter said the company learned an important lesson about falling out of step with societal expectations. “We needed to think and act differently” she said.
Today Altria understands the issues it has with its products and is working on addressing them, particularly concerning underage tobacco use. “Let me be clear,” Hunter stressed. “We do not want kids to use tobacco products. These are products intended for adults.”
In working to discourage kids from using tobacco Altria has focused on supporting what it calls Positive Youth Development programs that help kids not only avoid tobacco products but a broad range of risky practices. In partnerships with proven effective programs operated by organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 4H, Altria is linking its efforts and investments with education, to ensure that middle-school students are prepared for success in school, in work and in life.
“Can a tobacco company be responsible?” Hunter asked. “The answer is absolutely yes.”
Pitney Bowes is a company striving to make a difference for individuals and communities through its involvement in addressing the issue of literacy. Michael Monahan, Pitney Bowes Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, told of how the company’s involvement with Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is part of “our commitment to living our values day in and day out.”
Monahan cited three reasons for Pitney Bowes involvement with literacy:
- Connecting with customers
- Preparing the workforce of tomorrow
- Providing opportunity for all
Through volunteer opportunities working with RIF on programs such as Share the Message: READ, Pitney Bowes employees take on an amazing range of assignments to get books into the hands of children who need them most. Such initiatives have also benefitted Pitney Bowes internally through team building and personal development of employees.
Monahan gave the audience a chance to make a difference via Donors Choose gift cards placed at each seat that were pre-loaded with $15 to contribute to the online charity that allows public school teachers to post classroom project requests that are funded by donations from visitors to the site.
The International Corporate Citizenship Conference concludes Tuesday with 13 breakout sessions and more speakers to inspire attendees as they return to their work in helping companies continue to make a difference.