The primary focus of the 2017 International Corporate Citizenship Conference was ecosystems, so fittingly the final day of the event was full of making meaningful connections and expanding awareness of the entire system in which CSR professionals do their important work. In learning from experts both on the mainstage and in the audience, participants broadened their knowledge of their operating context and looked ahead to next year’s Conference—with convening sponsor Travelers—which was introduced during the event’s closing session.
Ambitious efforts for a sustainable future
Following a networking breakfast, more than 550 CSR professionals gathered for the opening general session of the day, hosted by ArcelorMittal—the world’s largest steel manufacturing company. During the session, titled “Driving Transparency and Sustainability: Big Challenges in Big Manufacturing,” ArcelorMittal executives William C. Steers and Marcy Twete shared how their company has begun to develop and implement the most ambitious sustainability narrative in the steel industry.
In discussing the development and implementation of their new and innovative sustainability strategy, Steers and Twete returned again and again to the importance of thoughtful stakeholder engagement.
“We’ve engaged with stakeholders at all levels during this process,” said Steers. “We’ve met with the media, customers, policymakers, and more—but most importantly, we talked to our employees—we wanted to understand their sustainability expectations.”
By listening to its internal and external stakeholders, and partnering with organizations that offer complementary skills and resources, ArcelorMittal has been able to create impressive corporate citizenship programs, such as its Sustain Our Great Lakes (SOGL) initiative, which aims to sustain, restore, and protect fish, wildlife, and habitat in the Great Lakes basin.
Since the program’s conception in 2008, SOGL has made the most of $125 million in funds from ArcelorMittal, restoring 35,399 acres of the great lakes, 1,736 miles of aquatic connectivity, and removing 246 fish passage barriers.
Steers credits the success of the initiative to the collective effort of its expert partners, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“When we set out to make sure we were conserving this precious resource, we knew that there was an opportunity to build off of what these organizations were doing and leverage the ideas and expertise that our partners could bring to the table.”
Now, ArcelorMittal is developing a global sustainability strategy to build off the momentum of such successes and to address the increasing stakeholder interest in corporate citizenship issues.
“We found that as the industry leader, our peers were looking to us to lead, and our stakeholders were pushing us to make the first move,” said Twete. “So we asked ourselves the question: What would it mean if we were the most sustainable steel company in the world?”
To find the answer, the company engaged in a year-long listening process, and determined 10 sustainable development outcomes. The outcomes ranged from resource conservation to impact measurement, and showcase the company’s deep commitment to sustainability. Determining them, however was just the first step.
“We had to drive understanding and awareness around the ten outcomes,” said Twete. “It was a long, but rewarding process—adoption is conference room by conference room, team by team, and leader by leader.”
The company’s strong sustainability narrative has led to an impressive culture shift. Instead of sustainability being something that is simply talked about, it now drives all ArcelorMittal’s decision making across the globe. In closing, Steers shared his secret to creating a unifying message:
“The narrative needs to be broad enough to resonate with a lot of people, but specific enough to conjure passion and inspire people to engage in creating change.”
As the session concluded, Conference participants dispersed to attend one of the morning’s breakout sessions, which included a sustainability trend workshop led by Center for Corporate Citizenship Teaching Fellow Nelmara Arbex, four different panelist discussions, and a company case study—during which Jackie Parker, director of Global Corporate Giving at General Motors, discussed the company’s realignment of its philanthropic giving objectives by winding down its foundation model and migrating to a corporate giving structure.
Following the sessions, attendees were able to take advantage of a networking break sponsored by Arthur J. Gallagher, and were again given the opportunity to join Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in preparing Healthy Living Kits backpacks.
Grasping powerful connections
During the morning’s second set of breakout sessions, CSR practitioners flocked to one of five panelist discussions ranging from making an impact with a small team to disaster relief, or to a workshop on meeting business and community goals through youth mentoring led by members of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.
Following a networking lunch, the Center’s Executive Director Katherine V. Smith kicked off the last session of the event. She greeted the attendees for the final time, thanked them for their engagement, and invited them to the 2018 Conference, to be held in Los Angeles, with Travelers as its convening sponsor. She then welcomed Erin L. Haberman, director of community relations at Travelers.
During her remarks, Haberman shared the Travelers EDGE (Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment) initiative—the company’s signature career pipeline program.
“With this program, we’re building a pipeline of diverse talent for our industry, and that’s how we think about this effort—as a pipeline,” said Haberman. “We start working with our scholars in middle school and stay with them until they’re ready to launch their careers.”
As they pass through the program, Travelers offers EDGE scholars financial support, academic advising, mentoring, and professional development opportunities. This multi-pronged approach delivers major results. To date, 76 percent of EDGE scholars have graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree or are on track to do so.
Haberman then introduced the final speaker of the Conference, Parag Khanna, international relations expert, executive, and best-selling author. In an insightful and compelling session based on his revolutionary book, Connectography, Khanna explored the technological and geopolitical ecosystems that are shaping our work and our world.
“The reason the world is so complex today is because it is more and more connected,” said Khanna. “There’s a physical underpinning to this connectivity through transportation, energy, and communication infrastructure.”
This infrastructure—and the digital and professional networks it supports, he argued, is what is truly determines our individual and corporate identities, rather than traditional geography.
“We’re moving into a world that’s organized much more by supply chains than by national boundaries,” said Khanna. “You should think of the world as connected areas and disconnected areas. Borders are just frictions against how you get to your markets.”
Khanna examined the role of the private sector in this global value chain, and illustrated how business can play a vital role in achieving global goals, like those outlined during the landmark Paris Agreement, which resulted in an outpouring of corporate support, engagement, and innovation.
“This is why I’m optimistic about the future,” he said. “Because business is shifting its practices, attitudes, and relationships with governments and becoming part of these networks to achieve important objectives.”
This active involvement not only benefits society, the environment, and the global economy, it also reflects an increasing awareness of evolving consumer expectations.
“Data shows that young people all over the world simultaneously believe that mobility is human right, connectivity is a human right, and sustainability is a paramount virtue,” he Khanna. “This is the moral evolution that we are moving towards.”
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