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.
Pamela Gill Alabaster: I am Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Sustainable Development & Public Affairs. I lead both the public affairs and the sustainable development functions for the largest subsidiary in the L’Oréal group.
In the Sustainable Development role, I am charged with advancing organizational competencies, knowhow and best practices by collaborating with internal and external teams to deliver against the global performance goals, aligned with the focus on sustainable innovation, sustainable production, sustainable consumption and shared development.
I am a 20-year veteran of the company and have spent half of my career in marketing leadership roles and half building corporate functions and practices.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
PA: Although L’Oréal became a signatory of the Global Compact in 2003, and has been reporting on the company’s global sustainability performance since 2004 through GRI, the U.S. sustainability function was not established until 2011. We are early in our journey. Aligned with headquarters, our focus over the past two years has been to develop and pioneer practices, programs and initiatives that help drive greater operational efficiencies, leverage sustainability as a platform for product innovation, educate and mobilize employees, engage and collaborate with external stakeholders and advance the reputation of our enterprise and brands. We are making good progress and have significant opportunities and challenges ahead.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
PA: I greatly admire Steve Cohen, Executive Director of the Earth Institute and the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program at Columbia University (and my faculty advisor), who had the foresight to develop a multi-disciplinary, advanced degree program in this emerging field, drawing from the best that Columbia has to offer. As a candidate for graduation this month, juggling a full-time, demanding career and school part-time at night has been a challenge for me, but Steve continues to evolve the curricula ensuring that the program is best-in-class, relevant, adds value, and is developing the future leaders in the field.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
PA: Set your sights high and persevere.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
PA: In addition to completing the MS program at Columbia, I am particularly pleased with the level of increased engagement that L’Oréal has achieved with external stakeholders. At the end of November 2011, we convened our first NGO stakeholder forum and invited civil society from environmental, human and animal rights organizations to review with us our sustainability strategy and the way we implement it around the world.
It was really a first for us and the experience was so beneficial that last spring we invited our top tier raw material and component suppliers to the same type of day of open exchange. And this past December in partnership with Forum for the Future, we convened a multi-stakeholder, pre-competitive group of leading brands, NGOs, retailers and branding specialists to a forum called Re-Imaging Consumption. The objectives of the Forum were to identify the barriers to more sustainable consumption, the pioneering practices and identify practical approaches for brands to shape the future of consumerism.
All of these are examples of our recognition that we will need to collaborate with others to lead and accelerate change, and I am proud of how willingly we have embraced this approach within our organization.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
PA: To shift our focus and emphasis on the longer-term.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
PA: It begins with a great cup of fair trade coffee with steamed half and half and a leisurely read of the newspaper, which I recycle. It includes positive collaborations with colleagues to advance some aspect of our ability to create value for our organization and for society, making a meaningful connection for someone (neighbor, colleague, friend, complete stranger or family member) between the life they enjoy and the gifts that nature provides, learning something new that’s relevant to my job, a long walk in the woods or on the beach and a quiet evening enjoying the company of my teenage children and my Rhodesian Ridgeback.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and @anewell3p on Twitter.