By Jennifer Chin
While we finally have reached a point when terms like CSR, triple bottom line, and GHG emissions don’t spin heads and leave folks fumbling around for a dictionary, there’s another language barrier now challenging CSR champions in the workplace: how to translate social and environmental values into financial metrics. This link, according to dedicated CSR professionals, is critical to making the business case for new initiatives.
“The end goal across the tech industry is to more fully integrate CSR into business,” says Suzanne Fallender, Director of CSR Strategy & Communications at Intel. “But until you can better measure CSR financially and link back to business value and strategy, it will always continue to be something separate.”
In other words, it’s not enough to simply develop company-wide recycling programs, invest in energy-efficient light bulbs, and build employee volunteer programs – you have to find a way to talk about these initiatives in the same way you’d talk about IT or R&D investments in order to effectively implement them throughout an organization.
How do you do that? “Measure everything you can measure, and then look at it over the long term,” Suzanne advises. She says Intel is getting increasingly smarter about this every year. According to their most recent CSR report, for example, energy efficiency measures have saved 640 million kWh of energy use since 2001 and $18 million in costs annually. Intel is able to track where the investments occurred and where the savings went. Those are hard numbers that convince financially-minded stockholders and environmentally-minded stakeholders alike.
But saving money is only one way to frame the conversation. The tech industry has long championed CSR efforts and transparency, but now the task is to apply technology to solve challenges and create a revenue stream. Suzanne points to Intel’s investment in educational programs as an example: “It’s never been enough to just put computers in the classroom,” she says. “You need to also support educators to help them bring in new teaching methods that use problem-solving, collaboration, and technology. We have worked with partners and manufacturers to create technological solutions that promote education and at the same time can also create revenue opportunities, such as the Intel-powered classmate PC.”
With this focus on integration in mind, Suzanne has been working directly with the corporate finance department to build a framework that discusses CSR in a systemic way, building on the company’s expertise to identify where value can really be defined and clarified. “When things are driven by the groups themselves, that’s when great CSR engagement happens,” she says.
It’s also how the CSR sector continues to grow: by integrating CSR roles into all functional groups, the number of sustainability-minded positions increases within any given organization. “It’s great news for CSR job seekers, who have seen tough competition externally and internally within companies. It’s especially good news for MBAs, since they tend to specialize in a functional anyway,” says Suzanne. “You can become the marketing manager who really gets it, whose job is to integrate CSR into brand positioning.”
“Be creative and flexible in your thinking,” she urges. “Once you’re in a company, you have the ability to build your own brand and champion CSR efforts from within your group.”
This kind of social intrapreneurship, in which one becomes a change-maker within a more conventional job function, is a great example of how many professionals who might not otherwise consider themselves to be in the CSR field are bridging the divide between the financial bottom line and society and the environment. It’s proof that CSR translation is a two-way street. While the CSR department is hard at work translating their efforts into financial opportunity, social intrapreneurs can be translating regular business into CSR efforts.
Suzanne Fallender is a speaker and volunteer career coach at this month’s Net Impact Conference, 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Decade, held at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business from Oct 28-30. Find out more about Suzanne’s sessions at www.netimpact.org/conference.