Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Name and title. Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Tori Kaplan: I serve as Assistant Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, at CSX Corporation, a leading supplier of rail-based freight transportation in North America. I joined CSX nine years ago as the company sought to optimize and grow our decades-long commitment to corporate responsibility and citizenship.
While my title can mean many things to many people, I embrace my role as an integrator among three important functions that shape our overarching CSR strategy: corporate citizenship, community outreach, and engagement of the more than 30,000 employees across our network. At CSX, we recognize that our people are the empowered stewards of social responsibility in the communities that we serve. This makes all the difference when you consider that we have more than 21,000 miles of continuous rail in 23 states — that’s a lot of ground to cover!
My position was created to further our company’s long-term commitment to corporate responsibility and citizenship across a number of key initiatives, including health and wellness, community outreach and collaborative sustainability and customer engagement efforts. Since joining CSX, it’s given me a sense of pride to know that CSR at CSX happens not with a checkbook in a board room, but through the community involvement of the many passionate people here.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
TK: As a freight rail company with more than 185 years of history, sustainability has been part of our DNA for quite some time. We transport goods that serve nearly two-thirds of the American population, but our commitment to sustainability runs much deeper than simply moving freight from point A to point B. Our sustainability promise is that we will adhere to the highest standards of safety, efficiency and responsibility for the good of CSX employees, customers, the communities we serve and our shareholders.
It’s been exciting to experience the company transition to an increasingly centralized social responsibility strategy in recent years. We have proactively shifted away from one-off CSR activities to focus on the company’s overarching business strategy. For us, the concept of what many of us refer to as “checkbook philanthropy” does not cut it. Rather, we’ve developed a CSR platform driven by robust involvement in the communities we serve and strategic investments in initiatives and organizations that align with our core values and business objectives. At the same time, we continue to empower employees across our expansive network as ambassadors for our sustainability initiatives. For example, our long-standing signature environmental program Trees for Tracks surpassed the 17,000-trees-planted mark in 2012, and we’re well on our way to reaching our goal of one tree planted for every mile of track across our network.
The evolution of our sustainability program is driven by many things, but two dominant factors are the expectations of our employees and those of our customers. Our employee base is surprisingly dynamic and we know, from research and the anecdotal affirmations of CSX railroaders, employees increasingly care about the sustainability commitment of the company for which they work. Our customers also hold us accountable as a responsible supplier of environmentally-conscious freight transportation. These are considerations that we embrace and have helped us evolve for the better.
3p: Tell us about someone who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
TK: The individuals I work with daily at CSX continue to inspire my continued journey in sustainability and social responsibility; and there are far too many to name! Whether I’m in Jacksonville or traveling across our network to coordinate community events, I’m motivated by the tenacity and drive of so many CSX railroaders who practice sustainability every day. In this way, the company’s sustainability commitment has grown to encompass the sum of all its parts — our people. I’m honored to play a role in connecting this passion and commitment to our customers, the public and the environment in ways that maximize good for our ecosystem and the economy.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
TK: The best advice I’ve ever received came from my parents. Our family has a deep-rooted history in the hospitality industry and from childhood, they constantly reminded me that the greatest rewards in life come from serving others. This attitude of service ultimately led me to where I am today and feeds into how we’ve shaped CSX’s CSR programs over the years. Our business revolves around delivering excellent service, not only to our customers, but also to local communities, our employees and shareholders.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
TK: I’m incredibly proud of our recently released Corporate Social Responsibility Report. It’s never been more important for us to tell our CSR story, and this year’s report recounts the amazing contributions our employees make to sustainability and communities in a really compelling way. In addition to just reporting the numbers, it presents a holistic view of our socially conscious vision—how we conceptualize CSR and how that plays out day-to-day from our headquarters to our vast network across 23 states.
The fact that the report secured a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) level B endorsement prior to its release is a tremendous source of pride. The rigorous standards of the GRI ensure that the report adheres to a framework that tells our story accurately and meaningfully. That validation is a great accomplishment for our company.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
TK: The freight railroad industry plays a vital role in all of our daily lives, moving important goods in the safest, most environmentally friendly way. However, the people within the industry aren’t always front and center. For every train that can move a ton of freight more than 450 miles, hundreds of men and women are working behind the scenes to see that this train operates safely and efficiently. If I could change one thing, I would like to make the human element of the railroad industry more prominent. From company operations to community involvement, people are making a difference in how we enhance efficiency and safety, while reducing the environmental footprint associated with shipping goods nationwide. I would love to be able to give them the recognition they truly deserve.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
TK: It’s hard to pin down my definition of a picture perfect day, but I know for sure that it involves sharing with others. Whether that’s sharing a conversation, sharing a meal or sharing a service experience, I can testify that sharing is essential to how we learn and grow. For CSX, sharing is the way that we have been able to maintain a strong culture across our vast rail network. Sharing is how we’ve evolved toward a more centralized CSR program that aligns with our business objectives. And sharing is how we will continue to provide essential value to our shareholders, the economy and our environment for decades to come.