Reading Tim Mohin’s book “Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations” was a refreshing experience. There are many great books that discuss every possible element of CSR and sustainability, but this is the first one I am familiar with that is written from the perspective of a CSR practitioner.
Therefore, instead of theories, academic models and case studies, in Mohin’s book we get to learn about the real world of CSR, which is very different from the theoretical world of CSR. After all, how many CSR books tell you that the most important skill you’ll need to succeed as a CSR manager is communication because basically “you lead a function where you have broad responsibility for issues that you have almost no authority to control”? Well, this book does.
Considering the relatively short history of corporate CSR, Mohin has vast CSR experience in AMD (currently), Apple and Intel and hence the reader has a chance to learn lessons in CSR from different corporate environments – from creating an effective stakeholder panel (Intel) to auditing suppliers in China (Apple). Stories like the one about how he was grilled by Apple’s (then COO) Tim Cook in his operations review, learning firsthand that to these sorts of meetings you need to prepare like you’re taking a final in college, makes Mohin’s book more interesting and credible.
But don’t get me wrong. This book is not a bunch of autobiographical anecdotes of a veteran CSR manager. Far from it. This is a comprehensive guide for CSR management, exploring in detail all the important issues that should be on a CSR practitioner’s agenda. Still, the book’s main value is not just in its comprehensive outlook on CSR, but in the context it provides of a complex corporate environment, where sometimes your ability to master workplace politics or “read the system” is key and can make the difference between success and failure.
Take, for example, one of the first steps – designing a CSR program. Mohin provides a detailed, step-by-step framework aiming to find and focus on the issues that are important both to the company and to its stakeholders. He provides advice on how to get the more difficult parts of the process done, like prioritizing your stakeholders’ issues, which can be quite tricky especially if you have many groups with very different agendas. One way is to establish a stakeholder advisory panel. Another one is to use a consultant that has experience working with your industry and have frequent interactions with NGO activists and other stakeholders.
Yet, even if this is not the first time you’ve read about how to prepare a materiality mix, you might be surprised to learn that the most important element in the process is a group meeting of internal stakeholders. Mohin explains that after doing all the hard work of defining your priorities, you still need to make the case in front of your CSR council or advisory committee, which is usually made up of senior-level people from the key business units in your company.
He provides a great advice on how to effectively prepare for and facilitate such a meeting to get the most out of it. Here’s one example he provides to demonstrate the importance of such a meeting:
For example, your process results in a recommendation that supply chain social responsibility is a high-priority issue. This conclusion is based on well-documented, activist allegations of sweatshop conditions in your industry’s supply chain, coupled with a recent shift by your company to more outsourcing. Based on the data, prioritizing this issue makes sense, but it could be meaningless unless the head of your company’s procurement team buys in to the conclusion and will help drive the strategy.
This example captures the added-value of the book, showing how a successful CSR manager needs to do his homework on the issues that are under his responsibility, but also understand the process and the “human element” in it. So how you do it? Mohin’s advice is simple: “Accept that you will not successfully influence internal stakeholders in every case, but never give up. The key to success is to demonstrate mutual value the relationship.”
In addition to being a great how-to book, this is also a story of Mohin’s journey in the last 25 years, from his days at the EPA through his different CSR positions to his current role at AMD. In many ways, it’s also a story about the progress of CSR and the changes it went through over the last couple of decades.
After reading this book, I came to the conclusion that it is required reading, not just for any student or professional interested in a CSR career, but also for every stakeholder who is actively engaged with corporations in any aspect of CSR. If you’re one of those and you want to have a better understanding of how CSR really works, and not just in theory, this is your book.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.