Highlights from the Boston College Center's 2012 International Corporate Citizenship Conference
By Tim Wilson, Editor and Writer, Boston College Center
Day two of the 2012 International Corporate Citizenship Conference opened with some cautionary words from the Center's Executive Director Katherine V. Smith who reminded attendees of the important leadership role they play in their company.
Referring to how the typical top-down organizational structure of businesses doesn’t match the networks they operate in, she indicated that there is more symbiosis in how vital leadership and social networks interact.
Smith also presented recent findings that demonstrated the gap between the social issues corporate executives feel are important to address and those that are vital in the opinion of consumers.
Closing that gap will depend on the leadership of corporate citizenship professionals, she emphasized.
“You can’t affect the structure of the organization but you can lead from any seat in your company,” Smith said, noting the critical placement of most corporate citizenship executives, adding, “You are the indispensable connector in your leadership network for your firm.”
Smith's comments were followed by the first keynote address of the day: Microsoft's General Counsel and Executive Vice President for Legal and Corporate Affairs Brad Smith, who picked up on Katherine Smith's words of advice and added that it is "their job to ensure companies’ efforts are real; a part of the fabric of what they are as companies."
“If it’s just the cherry on top of the cake, the applause, while initially loud, typically doesn’t last,” he said.
The Responsibility of a CSR Executive: The Microsoft Perspective
Years ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer felt that he was “firing off a little popgun” when talking about the company’s philanthropy, and questioned if it was really making a difference, continued Smith. Ballmer wanted Microsoft to create systemic change in addressing a problem that matters to people.
The answer: focusing on computer skills training to help individuals improve their lives.
Robin Hought, who works in the San Bernardino, Calif., area with the Wells Fargo Foundation, identified strongly with Smith’s imagery.
“Sometimes I feel like that’s what I’m doing, too,” she said. “I’m just putting a patch on some really important social issues but how do we make a real impact? How do we touch real people?”
To make something real in a skeptical world, Smith advised, companies must be willing to put themselves out there a bit to persuade skeptics of the sincerity of what they are doing. “Have a little edge” to test your company to give more momentum to overall efforts and bring your voice together with deeds. “It allowed us to build something bigger than a popgun.”
Remarking that every large institution needs a conscience, he said that while that it is not the only voice it is one that must be heard. “Corporate citizenship is being the conscience of a company in a rapidly changing and complex time” he said.
“It is work that is real.”
Commerce With Compassion: CSR According to Hershey's
James Nevels, chairman of the board of directors of The Hershey Company took up the theme Smith had set with his perspective to share the story of Hershey’s corporate citizenship and his personal journey.
Nevels spoke of values and of his business philosophy. As a young boy in Alabama he learned ethical principles from his grandfather – a nickel-a-week salesman of burial insurance policies – when he was given the job of recording payments.
Lessons learned young manifest today in his work at Hershey's as well as the investment advisory firm he heads, The Swarthmore Group. His three longstanding values:
- “Never ask someone to do something you would not do yourself.”
- “Tell the truth to your clients. If you do lie, you’ll have a helluva time remembering what you told them if you didn’t tell them the truth to begin with.”
- “Provide value in all shapes and forms. Be a good neighbor, be a responsible business person, and be an individual who cares about those around them.”
Another admonition: Do well by doing good.
That's what inspires the Milton Hershey School, he said, founded by the founder of Hershey's who described his philosophy as “commerce with compassion.” Founded in 1909 to provide a home and school for orphan boys, today the school provides a cost-free coeducational home and school for children from families of low income, limited resources and social need.
Hershey’s community involvement efforts today extends well beyond its Pennsylvania roots to West Africa, where farmers grow the cocoa used to make Hershey’s chocolate.
Many of those farmers live in impoverished conditions still using the same growing practices as their grandfathers, he described. Along with the Ghana Cocoa Board and the World Cocoa Foundation, Hershey's recently announced a new partnership to help improve the yield of cocoa farms and the farmers’ lives. Part of the collaboration is an innovative program in Ghana called CocoaLink, which uses cell phones to provide farmers with information on weather, farming techniques, and laws and regulations, information that has previously been hard to access.
While improving cocoa farming in Ghana is one concern, companies like Hershey's face continuing scrutiny about the issue of child labor on cocoa farms. Nevels noted, “It’s clear to all of us that much more needs to be done.”
This issue is a particularly personal one for Nevels, an African-American who visited the coast of Ghana and learned the ordeal his ancestors had to overcome as slaves.
“Why would I want to be part of any effort that would continue to enslave my kinsmen?” he asked rhetorically. “I would not! We’re working on that complex problem.”
Sustainability Metrics: Bottom Line Impact with Ernst & Young
Monday’s final keynote session featured a team from Ernst & Young. Beth Rosemond, assistant director of corporate responsibility, facilitated a conversation between colleagues Brendan LeBlanc, executive director of climate change and sustainability services, and Leisha John, Americas director of environmental sustainability, on the findings of the firm's latest research.
Conducted in collaboration with the GreenBiz Group, the research focuses on trends in Sustainability Reporting.
LeBlanc, who works with E&Y clients on sustainability said that he was particularly struck by two of the top three sustainability drivers cited by those surveyed. While cost reduction as the leading driver came as no surprise to the two accountants, LeBlanc noted that the No. 2 driver was “meeting stakeholder expectations” followed by “managing risk,” calling this fertile ground for corporate citizenship professionals to make the case for their efforts.
The key findings of the firm's research include:
- The CFO’s role in sustainability is on the rise.
- Despite regulatory uncertainty, greenhouse gas reporting remains strong, along with growing interest in water.
- Sustainability reporting is growing but the tools are still developing.
- Awareness is on the rise regarding the scarcity of business resources.
- Employees emerge as a key stakeholder group for sustainability programs and reporting.
- Rankings and ratings matter to company executives.
For John, who leads the firm's internal sustainability efforts, the importance of “meaningful metrics” is critical in creating increased credibility. “Figure out what it is you want to manage,” LeBlanc added, stressing the need for a “stakeholder materiality analysis” starting with employees.
His word of caution: The sooner corporate citizenship professionals can connect the dots between long-term value creating and their sustainability efforts the better.
Stay tuned to key takeaways from Day 2. If you don’t already receive the Center blog, click here to subscribe and get the latest news. Follow us on Twitter at #BCConf12 and don’t forget to stay with the blog after the conference for expanded coverage.