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Women in CSR: Liz Gorman, Cone Communications

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: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.

Liz Gorman: I am Senior Vice President, CSR/Sustainable Business Practices at Cone Communications.

Every day for the past 13 years, I have woken up excited and enthused to collaborate with my teams and get to work helping our clients – typically corporate communications or CSR/sustainability execs – who are striving to advance their company missions with regard to social and environmental responsibility. I’ve worked with clients in a variety of industries – from health care to consumer products and technology to retail. The common thread between all of our clients is their dedication to finding solutions that can help to address societal problems, both big and small. And I’d like to think the work we do at Cone moves our clients a few steps closer to fulfilling their CSR missions.

3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?

LG: Cone Communications is a boutique PR agency with a strong focus on CSR and sustainability strategy and communication services. With fewer than 150 employees, we know our environmental impacts and social contributions are minor when compared to billion-dollar businesses. But that doesn’t stop us from acting like a bigger company, one that fosters a culture of responsible business practices, invests in sustainability and embraces opportunities to give back to the local community. For instance, we did an initial assessment of our energy use and carbon footprint in 2007 and established a goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2015. Much like our client companies that have adopted energy efficient initiatives, we followed suit by consolidating the servers in our data center, migrating to energy efficient lighting and incorporating an energy management system. We’ve moved the needle on shrinking our own carbon footprint and have reported our progress on this initiative and many others through frequent updates of our CSR report. While small in size, we are definitely big at heart.

3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.

LG: People often ask me how I got into this field, and I admit it wasn’t by design, nor was it by accident. My professional background as a communicator was fairly traditional. After college and graduate school, I worked in PR and marketing communications, both on the nonprofit side and later in the corporate world. While working for a major apparel company I migrated into a community affairs role, which was the predecessor to CSR at many companies. But after several years of enduring a long commute, I decided to leave my day job and test my luck at consulting. Fortunately, my phone rang soon after and it was Sue Mecklenburg, a professional acquaintance, who at the time was director of CSR for a little company called Starbucks. She needed help telling the company’s CSR story, especially how the company was working closely with coffee farmers to ensure they had a sustainable livelihood and a better quality of life. Her vision was to publish Starbucks' first CSR report in 2001, and she handed the project to me. Back then, not many companies were reporting on CSR, so only a few benchmarks existed and the GRI was not well understood. I embraced the challenge and forged ahead, coming up with a list of the material issues to cover, data to incorporate and stories to showcase. When it was published, I knew the experience would lead somewhere, and sure enough it has. I often reflect on the significance of that initial call from Sue and am so appreciative of the trust she had in me and the valuable guidance and knowledge she provided along the way. Who knew one phone call could change the course of a career!

3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

LG: A former boss used to say, “Assume that most people have good intent.” I’ve never forgotten it – and of course, I do assume this, not only when it comes to individuals, but also with regard to companies.

3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

LG: Sometimes the most important accomplishments are not your own, but those of individuals you mentor or have influenced. I took pride as one of my most valued team members, Jennifer Garner, a senior account supervisor at Cone, created and presented a succinct and informative presentation on the new GRI G4 Guidelines and its implications for a specific client of ours. To prepare, she poured over hundreds of pages of background documentation on the new G4 guidelines and got up to speed on every nuance. She tackled the task of distilling all the details into an hour-long presentation that focused on the most critical and germane changes, and delivered it in a way that the client team could fully comprehend and appreciate. I admired how well she did and am thrilled to witness Jennifer’s career progression as a CSR/sustainability expert and professional communicator.

3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

LG: To ensure that the companies getting credit and recognition for their CSR/sustainability initiatives are, in fact, deserving of it; and conversely, to ensure the companies that are truly innovating and pushing the boundaries to advance their CSR commitments actually get the credit they deserve.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

LG: A perfect day in my book is when my teams and I are able to provide spot-on counsel or strategic communications that enable our clients to go further, create a more positive impact and deliver on the CSR promises and commitments their companies have made to stakeholders and to the world. Fortunately, most of my days are perfect ones.

Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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