On day one of 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands—The Long View, approximately 300 people listened to 16 presentations, panels and interviews with 45 leaders in corporate responsibility. Topics ranged from diversity and inclusion; to the future of business leadership; to disruption; to new corporate reputation metrics for social impact. And these three key points were the indisputable unifying theme throughout: Break down all the silos. Cultivate partnerships. Let authenticity be your guide.
Keynote remarks by Shana Deane, CEO of 3BL Media, set the tone first thing: We cannot do this alone. “This” being the hard work of moving the needle and creating positive change. “Governments are not moving the needle; businesses are moving the needle,” said Deane. “The political spectrum has changed – the risk piece is scarier – and requires a new level of nerve and grit. Acknowledge the change and have the uncomfortable conversations. Embrace vulnerability”
Breaking down all the silos
In order to make this possible, corporations and NGOs need to break down the silos between departments within their own organizations first.
Chris Coulter, co-CEO, GlobeScan presented some highlights from the 2018 BSR/Globescan State of Sustainable Business Survey, which draws its data from surveying one sustainability practitioner at 152 BSR member companies. A key finding in this report states,
“Sustainability teams still struggle to get traction with strategic planning and core business functions. There is surprisingly limited engagement with investor relations, marketing, or human resources—despite the recognized significance of investors, customers and employees as key drivers of sustainability.”
Throughout the day, speakers validated this research with anecdotal evidence of how the breaking down of internal silos was the first, and sometimes biggest, hurdle to jump on their journey to scale up their social impact work. But once this was achieved, efforts moved forward at a quicker, more energized pace.
Many companies represented mentioned that their way through this challenge has been to embed their corporate responsibility and sustainability work deeply within the framework of their organizations.
It is not only internal barriers that need breaking however, as Tom Madrecki, director of urban innovation and mobility at UPS discussed. When they were looking to decrease their carbon footprint by making a transition from their legacy system of truck deliveries in urban areas, the silos between corporate leadership and the cities where they do business (in UPS’s case, all the cities) needed to be torn down to allow partnerships to emerge and give birth to the new system of centralized staging of packages and bike delivery in these areas.
Partnerships are vital
Once the silos are gone, the building of partnerships can begin, and their importance was repeated in literally every presentation.
As Wendy Soloman of The Harris Poll and Amy Terpeluk of Finn Parners presented from their findings in “A New Corporate Reputation Metric for Social Impact,” the rules of engagement are being rewritten. Doing good is no longer a choice for companies – American companies especially – it is an imperative for the bottom line, and an expectation from the public.
“Don’t see the public as ‘consumers’ – people everywhere are ‘leaning-in’ on how companies are behaving,” said Terpeluk.
This is a huge – albeit inferred only – mandate. To get off the ground, everyone – from the largest multi-national to the smallest local business – needs to work with organizations with the same goals and in most cases, already doing the work.
Like breaking down the silos, partnerships keep companies agile.
Let authenticity be your guide.
And how do companies know what the “right thing to do” is? All companies have a purpose – a mission statement that tells the world what their values are. In this time of Brands Taking Stands, this is what the public wants to see – a company walking their talk and taking authentic steps toward making a positive impact.
Jen Crozier, president of the IBM Foundation & vice president of IBM Corporate Citizenship, quoted her CEO as saying, “We will be unafraid to change anything about our business except our values.”
Hammad Atassi, CEO of American Sustainable Business Council said, “The future trend will no longer be to translate the action on a company’s values into ‘C-suite language.’ Sustainable business is becoming just business. It is the norm and expectation.”
And perhaps most importantly, he finished with, “Greenwashing is no longer ok; you can be called out in a moment if you are not taking authentic action.”
Image credit: Pexels
Jennifer Foley is a former 3BL Media employee.