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.
Cindy Drucker: Weber Shandwick provides strategic communications and public affairs services, with a specialty in sustainability and social responsibility for clients in the nonprofit, foundation, and corporate sector. I am an Executive Vice President with Weber Shandwick’s Social Impact practice where I lead our global sustainability offering. In this role, I partner with our Weber Shandwick teams around the world to help our clients navigate the complexities of the sustainability landscape through innovative leadership initiatives, unique collaborations, positive stakeholder engagement and effective communications and public affairs strategies.
I’ve worked in the sustainability arena for 22 years – starting in 1992 when it was called “green marketing” and most of the issues were around advancing single environmental attributes such as recycling and recycled content. Today, I’m able to use the insights learned through my prior positions as head of global sustainability for SC Johnson, senior advisor to the president/CEO of World Wildlife Fund and director of stakeholder engagement for the Presidential Oil Spill Commission to build multi-stakeholder initiatives for Weber Shandwick clients that advance a more sustainable future, create shared value, and build reputation capital.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
CD: Sustainability is embedded throughout all of our client work. Sustainability may have started as a niche offering – but today, companies, nonprofits, foundations all understand that sustainability is a mainstream way of addressing their values and commitment to a healthy, vibrant economy and future. We bring a cadre of sustainability professionals with years of expertise in the field combined with experts in all of the communications and public affairs services. By integrating our sustainability expertise with our full range of practices, we can best serve clients in a holistic and comprehensive way.
Beyond helping client partners develop and communicate their corporate social responsibility and sustainability programs, Weber Shandwick received ISO 14001 accreditation in May of 2007 for all of our offices in the United States, exemplifying our own environmentally responsible business practices. Weber Shandwick is the only public relations firm to earn this ISO 14001 certification distinction. And, we are committed to rolling out these processes globally. Moreover, our Washington, DC office has obtained LEED Gold Certification under the U.S. Green Building Council Rating System.
Our firm also has an active employee sustainability program. We have established an Impact project where each of our offices around the world commits to a volunteer program carried out in their community throughout the year. It really allows our teams to demonstrate our commitment to social responsibility and sustainability firsthand.
Weber Shandwick’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, comprised of employees from the executive suite to entry level, is responsible for setting, reviewing and delivering on our environmental objectives and targets, and working with our offices worldwide to drive progress. We also host sustainability events, often with partners such as Net Impact, to educate and inform our employees on sustainability issues on an ongoing basis.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
CD: My Mom is my personal sustainability hero. She was an environmentalist at heart and her appreciation for nature made a big impact on me. From planting ferns and tall grasses in our garden to calling me from the breakfast table to see a bird outside the kitchen window, she was enthused by nature and all it has to offer and she instilled that same respect and appreciation in me.
From a professional perspective, my mentor was the CEO of my first job in the environmental industry. In 1992, I was working as director of environmental affairs for a plastics manufacturing company called Webster Industries. The company manufactured a variety of trash bags – collecting and using plastic scrap and waste primarily as a means to reduce the cost of raw materials. The president of the company, Raj Bal, saw the opportunity to turn the cost savings into a positive value proposition and we subsequently launched the nation’s first 100% recycled content line of plastic trash bags. We won significant marketing and environmental awards and tripled the company revenues as a result of launching the Renew brand. I toured the country working with legislators and government officials to push for recycled content legislation and an expanded recycling infrastructure and spoke about green product marketing at conferences. And I started consulting to other companies interested in learning how to market and communicate green products – early lessons that are still relevant today. That endeavor during my work with Webster Industries and the tenacious leadership by Raj set the path for my career in sustainability.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
CD: “Where you stand depends on where you sit,” is a phrase I learned during my studies at the Kennedy School of Government. The idea resonated with me and I try hard to apply the premise both in my personal and professional endeavors. Whether it is helping a client address a specific issue or simply planning a family vacation, it is helpful to think about the situation from the other person’s perspective instead of just your own.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
CD: In my role with Weber Shandwick, I serve as the global sustainability/CSR lead for our work with SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation), one of the world’s largest petrochemical companies. I’ve worked in many parts of the world during my 20-year tenure in the sustainability field, but it is particularly exciting to partner with a global company that is truly committed to advancing sustainability in the Middle East. Through SABIC’s commitment, I am able to help make a difference in a part of the world where sustainability advancements can have a tremendous global impact.
And, I’m also proud of ziplining in the rain during my recent vacation in Costa Rica….
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
CD: A fear of being scolded for “greenwashing” makes many companies risk-averse. Yet, when messaged and positioned correctly, companies can take credit for progress in advancing a more sustainable future and, in doing so, align with the aspirations of their employees, investors and other stakeholders while simultaneously building a leadership advantage and business opportunities. It is about progress – not necessarily perfection. There is ample opportunity to turn sustainability data – Scope 3 emissions, GRI 4 reporting, materiality, etc. – into meaningful and effective communications that motivate employees and other stakeholders to embrace and reward sustainability leadership and innovation moving forward.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
CD: I love to travel, so my perfect day would be waking up and being surprised with an airline ticket to a city or region that I haven’t been to before. I enjoy exploring without a set itinerary or plan – really engaging with people throughout the journey. One of my favorite experiences was when my brother surprised me with a trip to Tibet, filled with adventures such as taking a small fishing boat to Samye, one of the oldest monasteries in Tibet. Traveling gives me a direct appreciation of different cultures, perspectives and landscapes which also translates into value-added insights I can bring to our clients and our work.
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 email@example.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.