JetBlue’s mission is to inspire humanity, and to achieve it through their CSR program, they begin with their crewmembers—the company’s term for its employees. By listening and acting strategically, the airline has developed corporate citizenship programs that effectively drive crewmember engagement; now the next step is increasing engagement externally.
“At JetBlue, we know that the success of our company relies on the 17,000 crewmembers who work to get people safely to their destination,” said Robin Hayes, president and chief executive officer at JetBlue. “We know that our customers feel good when they see friendly and engaged crewmembers, and corporate citizenship—a commitment to sustainable operations and the development of the communities in which we live and work—is what keeps our crewmembers happy and engaged.”
How does JetBlue know this? It has the data. A few years ago, leadership at JetBlue began reviewing crewmember engagement, one of the cornerstones on which the company was built. They conducted a comprehensive assessment of crewmember sentiment, including surveys, interviews, and focus groups, and found that community was the largest motivating indicator for crewmembers. They took that message to heart and moved the company’s corporate social responsibility department under the people department (human resources) to help ensure that efforts benefiting JetBlue’s three areas of focus—youth and education, community, and the environment—were aligned with crewmember engagement initiatives.
“Since we’ve aligned the objectives of our corporate social responsibility platform and our people department, we’ve seen a tremendous surge of involvement and enthusiasm from our crewmembers,” said Harry Spencer, vice president of compensation, benefits and corporate social responsibility at JetBlue. “Together, we’ve been able to achieve things like access to age appropriate books, onboard recycling, and carbon offsets. By partnering with Carbonfund.org, we’re able to offset all of our crewmembers’ business travel, and we’re able to extend that offer to customers as well. Since the program began, we’ve hit a milestone and offset 1.4 billion pounds of CO2 emissions.”
JetBlue’s carbon offset efforts and recycling program—which includes composting and fabric and electronics reclamation—are just a few of the company’s extensive corporate citizenship initiatives. The airline also invests heavily in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education with the recently established JetBlue Foundation. In various communities throughout its network, the airline also builds playgrounds in low-income areas through its partnership with KaBOOM!, and encourages reading by collaborating with Random House and First Book through JetBlue’s Soar with Reading Campaign. In 2011, JetBlue launched Community Connection, a volunteer program designed to align corporate giving with crewmembers’ passions. Since the program’s launch, JetBlue crewmembers have volunteered more than 235,000 hours and earned free travel for their favorite nonprofits along the way.
JetBlue has also established some less traditional programs developed directly from specific customer needs—efforts like Blue Horizons for Autism, which offers a simulated travel experience for autistic children and their families. Created in response to a family that was unable to complete a planned trip due to the stress that travel placed on their autistic son, the program offers a complete experience—from checkin to taxiing—that allows children and families to gauge their comfort levels in a secure environment.
JetBlue’s dedication to inspiring humanity through its own compassion for its customers, crewmembers, and communities is impressive; however—as is the case with so many companies’ corporate citizenship efforts—it goes largely unnoticed. In 2014, the company gained significant media attention for providing free flights into New York City for approximately 670 law enforcement personnel traveling to the funeral of slain New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. According to Icema Gibbs, director of corporate responsibility at JetBlue, the difficulty in communicating corporate citizenship efforts lies not only in an aversion to “seeming to be self-serving”—a sensitivity shared by many corporations—but also in JetBlue’s very product.
“As an airline, we aren’t a service that people interact with every day—maybe not even every year,” said Gibbs. “So we don’t have a lot of chances to communicate directly to the customer about the great work we do in corporate citizenship. We know it needs to be about broader communication. The struggle is always how to do that authentically. For us, it comes back to crewmembers. We know they are our best ambassadors.”
As with so many corporate citizenship efforts, progress was achieved through data, and it was driven from the top. Company leaders regularly stress the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives to crewmembers and to the public, and they charge their employees to do the same.
“We’re very focused on giving back to the communities we serve in a meaningful way, and so we encourage our crewmembers to volunteer with JetBlue’s Community Connection program—to give back and to showcase JetBlue’s commitment to corporate citizenship,” said Spencer. “We track their efforts by encouraging them to log their volunteer hours, and we hold our leaders to the same standards.”
In just a few years, JetBlue has made significant progress in developing and elevating its corporate citizenship initiatives, and is now looking to take its efforts even further. Beyond just raising cause awareness, the airline has made a significant effort to develop meaningful charitable partnerships and create volunteer experiences for its crewmembers and customers that support the communities it serves. JetBlue has become adept at communicating the importance and impact of its efforts internally, but found it was still struggling with how to amplify that message with its broader stakeholder audience. Once again, it has decided to learn by listening.
Recently, JetBlue hosted a Swing for Good breakfast panel—held shortly after its 6th annual Swing for Good golf event, which raised more than $200,000 for DoSomething.org, City Year, and the JetBlue Foundation—to talk to its nonprofit partners and other major businesses about the successes and challenges they were facing in corporate citizenship.
Through an honest and fruitful discussion, the panel—which included representatives from American Express Company, Hertz, and Verizon, Inc.—shared best practices for communicating corporate citizenship efforts. They agreed that success lay in communicating frequently and authentically, acting consistently in a way that aligned with core business objectives, making the most of strategic partnerships, and incorporating corporate citizenship into every customer interaction. “
We have a truly unique culture at JetBlue—one that has allowed us to forge emotional ties to our customers in exceptional ways,” said Hayes. “We know that by getting our stories out there—by connecting our work in the communities we serve—we’ll be moving people in more ways than one, and that’s our mission: to inspire humanity to do better.”
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