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BSR CEO Pushes CSR Envelope at ASQ Conference

By Lesley Lammers

This past week I had the privilege of attending the American Society for Quality (ASQ) inaugural Pathways to Corporate Social Responsibility Conference in San Francisco, where the quality side of business broke bread with corporate social responsibility (CSR) gurus to expound upon their synergies and determine how to move forward in unison.

An engaging keynote was given on this overlap by Aron Cramer, President and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), a non-profit business association which uses consulting, research and cross-sector collaboration to promote CSR.  Cramer believes “if this is the era of sustainability, the quality community is tailor-made to rise to the challenge.”  He discussed key opportunities for quality to push the CSR envelope by giving some basic guidelines for businesses to follow when shaping a strategic business plan to addresses CSR…

The first guideline is basic environmental economics Cramer cites the astonishing statistic from the Global Footprint Network that humans are currently using 1.5 planets worth of resources annually, and by 2030 that figure will jump to two planets, so companies need to be thinking about long term material constraints.  He explained with great surprise that, for example, even companies like ExxonMobil, who haven’t exactly been seen as wearing an environmental halo, have recently become carbon tax advocates and meanwhile Puma put out its first ever combined financial and environmental report this year.

Cramer went on to offer that transparency is the wave of the future and companies absolutely must recognize that tools like GoodGuide will either make or break a business, encouraging company leaders to make the decision to be open about their business practices so as to not leave consumers in the dark and subsequently lose their business.

Change where we live.  Nowadays the majority of the world lives in megacities, which offer businesses both a challenge and an opportunity because this mass urbanization is changing the nature of our communities, infrastructure, and culture.  More importantly, urban centers tend to be more energy efficient because of density, Cramer noted that New York City was ranked as the greenest city in America.

Get incentives right both internally and externally.  Quality professionals needs to get more board engagement by showing real data-driven results, than the board can hold management accountable by creating initiatives like compensation incentives in order to change behavior on the inside, but also create brand loyalty from the outside.

Embrace collaboration, whether it be through an industry coalition, public/private partnership, or working with a non-profit.  In a seemingly unlikely partnership, Greenpeace joined with Coca-Cola to help engineer cooling systems with a lower carbon footprint, resulting in the company’s announcement that they would switch to 100 percent hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) free refrigeration equipment by 2015 as a direct result of this collaboration.

Take consumers on as partners.  Levi Strauss & Company began a dialogue with consumers by creating care tags that recommend consumers wash the jeans in cold water, line dry when possible and eventually donate them to Goodwill when they are no longer needed.  Levi Strauss’ VP of social and environmental sustainability, Michael Kobori, is on point with Cramer when he told the New York Times, “This is the first major step to begin to engage consumers in their environmental impact and what they can do reduce it.”

These principles discussed by Cramer were adapted from his recently released book entitled, Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World (co-author Zachary Karabell), which Fast Company called a “must-read.”

To hear about the other keynote given by John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility and Volans, check out Leon Kaye’s recent post.

Lesley Lammers headshot

Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.

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