Learn how your peers are using information strategically to increase transparency in their organizations and drive powerful change in Issue 14 of the Corporate Citizen Magazine.
Our annual Earthwatch-Ernst & Young Ambassadors Program has something in common with my garden – it is vibrant and fast-growing. It is also an integral part of the seasonal rhythm at Ernst & Young, but not in exactly the way I had envisioned when we planted the first seeds over four years ago.
Yes, our people have contributed to the Earthwatch Institute’s environmental field research in Brazil and Costa Rica.
In business, many of us try to engage in visioning exercises, brainstorming adventures, long-range planning sessions, and other lesser forms of torture to help us identify the outcomes we want to see in the world as a result of our sustainability initiatives.
The point is, if you want to be successful with a program or initiative, you’d better be really sure about the outcome you want to affect once you’ve executed.
But what if the decision about outcome isn’t wholly yours to make? Or, put another way, should it be? If you want your initiative to be successful, then it’s beneficial to step outside of “traditional” constructs and first master the art of effective listening.
You might have heard about the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) recently. The SAC was founded by an industry-wide group of leading apparel and footwear brand owners, retailers, manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, academic experts, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is an organization that seeks to measure and reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world.
I admit I may be delirious from all the number crunching, prose dissecting, and painful proofreading. But in these waning days before our next sustainability report is published, I confess that I enjoy the assurance process.
It’s not the general attitude. After all, a bunch of accountants come into your world for a rigorous review of your numbers. They require (gasp) documentation to prove your “facts”. They find those discrepancies between last year and this year. They challenge your subject matter experts on the methodology of their charts and graphs. And to be honest, they take a lot of glee in your mistakes.
In reflecting on recent “scandals” in the corporate world - from noisy financial crises and resignations, to bribery and corruption allegations at home and abroad - I wondered what is needed in the corporate world to adopt an ethic of “good” corporate behavior. These simple questions require complicated reasoning to resolve.
Paraphrasing Wikipedia, ethics is defined as moral philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviors. A distinction has been drawn in philosophy between ethics and morality with the focus on ethics being more based on duty, obligation, and conduct, with morals being related more to the notion of virtue. I believe we may have allowed our discussion of business ethics to be too focused on duty and obligation and may have lost an appropriate amount of emphasis on the moral dimensions of that code.
While some of our recent notable financial crises have been caused by actions that have been in compliance with laws or internal policies of the involved firms, in hindsight, not many would call them “good” in the moral sense. Compliance is the minimum required of a corporation but being compliant can create the impression that we are being ethical, which is not always the case. Our financial institutions may have been in compliance with the law in the repackaging of the risky loans which led to the financial crisis. Some of the correspondence uncovered after the fact indicates that there was at least debate about whether the passing-on of that risk was “right.” But were the players ethical in the moral sense of the word? Had the market not collapsed, they may have been considered financial geniuses as the hedge fund managers who shorted those instruments were, but in taking that enormous risk, were they acting morally?
Topics: Executive Interviews
For consumer products companies like Avon, there is often a quick assumption that sustainability will focus on the products themselves – products that are green, organic, natural or similar designations. But at Avon, and many peer companies, the sustainability imperative is embedded organically (no pun!) into the business enterprise, with a commitment to identify and leverage sustainable opportunities in the processes required to develop, create and deliver products to the consumer.
Historically these processes have been invisible to the stakeholder, but with the increased demand for transparency and disclosure, companies have a greater opportunity to showcase meaningful commitments – a silver lining in the sometimes cloudy sky of reporting, rankings and ratings. And, along the way, the thousands of employees who bring the sustainability commitment to life, from environmental engineers to marketers, are elevated to playing a role in a larger mission, not just “doing their jobs.”
News headlines across the world remain focused on record joblessness and struggling economies. A deeper story, however, lies in the scarcity of talent facing corporate America. Today’s workers simply don’t have the skills employers need.
PwC’s recently released 2012 Global CEO Survey found that almost 60 percent of U.S. CEOs planning to hire this year believe it won’t be easy to find the right people. (And this despite a jobless rate that’s hovered in the 9 percent range for months in the U.S.)
Almost a quarter of the U.S. CEOs confirm they were unable to pursue a market opportunity and another fifth were unable to innovate effectively because of talent constraints. Eighty-four percent of these CEOs are making direct investments in workforce development, but these measures alone aren’t enough. Most people consider hiring and retaining the right people a human resources issue, but I and others in the corporate responsibility (CR) community consider recruitment and retention inextricably linked to our field.
Topics: Executive Interviews
Sustainability reporting is increasing at a fast pace here in the United States. Since the Global Reporting Initiative was launched in 1997, the number of reporting organizations in our country has increased tenfold. It’s true that multinationals reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in the U.S. lag behind our global counterparts. However, it’s encouraging to see an increase in reporting uptake – not just because this allows stakeholders to better understand corporate impacts, but also because reporting in its best form should be a tool that aids strategy development, target setting, and business management.
Topics: Executive Interviews