April 19, 2014

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The True Value of CSR Reporting: In Conversation with Campbell Soup's VP for CSR

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By Aman Singh

The soon-to-be-released report will mark Campbell Soup's fourth CSR Report. This report comes amidst a CEO change – Denise Morrison took on the chief job at Campbell Soup last year joining a small group of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 – and a period of what Director of Diversity & Inclusion Kevin Carter calls a time of "deep introspection" for the company.

Carter's note is well taken. With the economy sputtering and flailing, reports continue to suggest that consumer confidence and trust remain low. For a food manufacturer then, this means not only staying ahead of the curve of quickly changing taste preferences but also understanding its unique role in encouraging nutrition across an increasingly complex and fragmented consumer base.

And amid a tepid economy, where does the true value of CSR and sustainability reporting lie? Can these reports and the effort required to produce them extend beyond an exercise in sharing key metrics, the year's highlights – and a few, incredibly sparse media mentions – to true learning experiences for companies to better their processes and make gains that help them and their communities become more sustainable?

The True Value of CSR Reporting

Dave Stangis, Campbell SoupFor VP of Public Affairs and Corporate Responsibility, Dave Stangis – his third report since taking the job at Campbell Soup – the true value of Campbell Soup's reporting goes far beyond setting the right goals and reporting on the progress.

"The true potential of CSR reporting* is that while companies go through this chronological reporting effort once a year, the organization and business units are executing their strategies and working on metrics year-round. The process of reporting creates an opportunity to build a Campbell Soup Britannica or World Book to work off of and use as a record of the company's progress," he said in a recent interview.

"All year long, we are collecting examples, building the narrative, monitoring our progress and continually evolving materiality assessments," he continued. Often, great examples of progress emerge that would otherwise never rise to the spotlight in a multinational company.

"As you dig in, you find cross-functional teams working together on strategy, benchmarking, indicators, etc. There are, of course, always things to improve on but the stories and ideas that emerge from this heels dug in reporting exercise are incredibly useful in moving our company forward," he said.

Connecting the Dots: Recognizing the True CSR Heroes

In recent weeks, CSRwire readers read from a number of top executives at Campbell Soup on their stories and contribution to the 2012 CSR report. Trish Zecca discussed the fine balance between nutrition and taste while Amanda Bauman discussed how the company is tackling hunger and obesity in its communities and Dr. Daniel Sonke gave us an in depth account of the relationship between agriculture practices and corporate sustainability. Finally, D&I Director Kevin Carter offered his insights on how the company is prioritizing intercultural teams, moving diversity beyond compliance, and tentatively dipping its toes in social media.

Volunteers at Campbell SoupFor Stangis, these are the true heroes.

"These are the people who are behind the images and stories in the report. They are invested in the business and their work and there is a discernible amount of pride and work ethic that goes along with that," he said.

"For our CSR Communications Manager Niki Kelley – creating this report is her life for six months and I’ve told her, she’s the one who knows more about the entire company than anyone else in the company."

5 Questions for Campbell Soup's VP for CSR

What is Stangis most proud of in the latest CSR report?  "It’s the nuances that a lay reader won't realize but that are critical to the progress we are making," he said. To explain further, we decided to play five questions:

1. Whose Interested:

"We continue to evolve our understanding of our various audiences [for the CSR report]. We want to connect with our employees on the frontline as well as in the C-suite. We need to impact our neighbors and make the content relevant to our customers and consumers. Most readers are looking for quick snapshots and I want to validate, reinforce and build trust and credibility in that short timeframe."

2. What's New:

"We've really worked hard on strengthening the wellness and nutrition metrics from a product perspective…we're not driving a health ultimatum, but we are offering more healthy choices for consumers. Readers that pay closer attention will notice a growing sophistication in our strategies and metrics across the board. This report also includes the first full description of our Healthy Communities Initiative that we’ve launched in Camden, NJ."

3. What's Often Hidden:

"We work hard to make sure nothing gets lost in the details, but there is a ton of content that most readers will miss on a casual glance. The CEO Letter can give the readers a sense of how Denise Morrison thinks and interacts with the CSR and sustainability strategy."

"We're bridging from an employee engagement (only) mindset to a performance culture that leverages engagement to drive better business results. This isn’t something that is immediately obvious to external readers but it’s a priority for us."

4. What's Measured Gets Managed:

"Last year we discussed our community programs but this year the report really talks about these in a strategic and measureable manner. We continue to advance our metric set from product conception to societal impact. We’ve mapped our production sites with the WBCSD Global Water Tool and as we’ve brought our Community and Foundation functions into tighter alignment with our CSR and Sustainability strategies, we are shifting from measuring activity to measuring outcomes."

5. Uncharted Territory:

"The big news this year from a sustainability perspective is our traction on renewables. We've had smaller efforts in the past but in 2011 we went from dipping our toes in the water to flipping the switch on one of the largest solar installations in the country. This represents a cultural shift for the company. Large scale renewable projects just weren’t in our solution set and now we are evaluating new renewable opportunities across our plant network that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and save money."

solar panelsFor Campbell Soup, a global footprint means a holistic vision of sustainability that encompasses its products, employees, communities and supply chain.

And for Stangis, publishing an annual report is not only a testament to his team's efforts but also a way to measure what's not working. Having led CSR at Intel before joining Campbell Soup, Stangis is a veteran in the world of CSR reporting, and has seen firsthand the evolution of the sector.

"What comprehensive reporting does today is set up a process that continues to position the company in the long term. This wasn’t the case when we started reporting. Now we're anticipating issues and breaking down communication silos that are inherent in the company," he explained.

Challenges Ahead: More Data, Clarity of Purpose

Any regrets? "We need to keep pushing ourselves for better data every year, especially for our international footprint. It’s only when you dig in that you realize how much better a fully integrated measurement and reporting system would be," Stangis confessed.

The journey – as for most companies taking on the responsibility and challenge of reporting on their corporate social responsibility and sustainability efforts – is far from over.

And as a seasoned sustainability executive, Stangis understands the daunting task that lies ahead for Campbell Soup in a crowded market, evolving taste preferences and the continuous challenge of consumer education. "We still have to plug people into what we are doing, the reason why we are doing it [and make it make sense]," he said, noting that it isn’t just the external stakeholders that need the dots to be continually connected for them.

"We have to do a better job at communicating the strategic intent and shareowner value delivered by a comprehensive CSR program.  Our internal teams, our C-suite – it’s our job to help them understand  the story across the board."

*Campbell Soup's 2012 CSR Report releases next week.

Previously:

Nourishing our People: From Diversity to Inclusion to Impact

Nourishing our Planet: 50 Interviews, 5 [Sustainability] Priorities

Nourishing our Consumers: Measuring Success Against a Constantly Moving Target

Nourishing Our Neighbors: Audacious CSR Goals Demand Revolutionary Ideas

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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