By Daniel Faris
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is an unlikely state capitol. Even the people who live here agree that Philadelphia or Pittsburgh might be better choices. Visiting either of those cities immediately imparts a sense of scope and even grandeur — they are alive and vital in a way that Harrisburg, even amidst its slow renaissance, cannot yet match.
While Harrisburg’s suburbs sprawl for miles in each direction, the city center itself is actually not very large. The capitol building sits at the heart of the city, and the downtown area surrounds it; some of the tallest buildings are here, along with the city’s most walkable blocks, classiest restaurants and bistros, and most attractive apartment buildings.
But as you walk away from the capitol building — in any direction, really — the city begins to change around you. As you count the blocks, you’ll find yourself in worse and worse neighborhoods — worse not because of the quality of the people who live there, but because of the radically different socioeconomic factors at work. If income inequality is a problem at work in all of modern America, then Harrisburg could be its poster child.
Maybe it’s existing in a place with such striking differences from one block to another, or maybe it’s just something in the water, but despite Harrisburg’s problems, it has emerged as a hotbed of corporate responsibility.
That renaissance I mentioned earlier? I see it all over Harrisburg. I see it in entrepreneurial boldness, in the empty and forgotten apartments and storefronts being lovingly rehabilitated, and in the local charities that buoy the community’s less privileged. And, unlikely as it seems, it’s the corporate world that’s leading the charge.
Companies that endorse corporate responsibility “have formally-written principles, strive to act as good citizens, and emphasize a constant dialogue with their stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and communities,” according to the International Chamber of Commerce.
It’s that bit about being a good citizen that really forms the crux of the argument for me. Not every citizen has the means or the time to take an active role in the betterment of their community, and so it falls on companies to take up that banner.
That’s what corporate responsibility means. Now, let’s see how it’s being put into practice by Harrisburg companies.
A visit to Shipley Energy’s civic involvement page will yield such names as the Salvation Army, Rotary International and United Way. But those are just the usual suspects; you’ll also find the names of local organizations such as Children’s Home of York and the Susquehanna Folk Music Society. And the list goes on.
It’s great to see any company lend support to national institutions, but it’s even better when a company positions itself as a pillar of their local community.
A trip to the company's awards page will turn up a list of accolades that reads like a novelette. Most of them are things that you’d expect — or at least hope — to find on a major healthcare company’s website: awards for “excellence in patient care” and being a “Magnet Recognized Hospital,” to name two.
I ordinarily wouldn’t heap accolades on a company for simply doing its job well, but in the healthcare industry this is a particularly important issue. Congress has been wrestling since the late ‘90s about ways to properly, fairly and responsibly provide funds to Medicare. A recent bipartisan solution — the so-called “doc fix” — finally settled the issue by promising merit-based funding. It would hold healthcare providers accountable for the quality of their service.
We happen to live in a world where corporate excellence doesn’t always happen without a federal mandate, so it’s encouraging to see that Pinnacle Health has been consistently ahead of the curve.
The company recently took home bragging rights for two significant achievements. The first was being acknowledged as one of the Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania. As not every company does, Triple Crown has recognized that giving back to the community starts with taking care of your employees. And since the Best Place to Work awards are determined in part by employee votes and testimonials, it seems the company is succeeding.
The second acknowledgement was receiving a certificate of environmental accomplishment from Shred-It, a company that specializes in secure document shredding. The certificate indicates that Triple Crown saved enough paper materials to save 30 trees. Now think what could happen if every company in America made a similar commitment.
Regrettably, our world is filled with disingenuous multibillion-dollar corporations that throw the phrase “responsibility” about in a way that damages its very meaning. Take, for example, the hypocrisy all but embedded in the culture of BP — one of the world’s six “supermajor” oil and gas companies. Back in 2010, BP was responsible for the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. Its corporate site will tell you that BP is “working to avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental impacts wherever we do business.”
Meanwhile, in full view of the watchful public, BP has tried and failed to shrug off its responsibility for the disaster and reduce their enormous fine levied against them in response to the spill.
Elsewhere, though, companies are getting it right. While Apple’s stock and trade is just a little less dicey than shunting oil all across the globe, it is nevertheless embracing the role of thought leader that being a multibillion-dollar corporation brings with it. Under CEO Tim Cook’s stewardship, Apple is making great progress in bringing basic human dignities to workers in the developing world, improving their environmental sustainability back home, and using Tim Cook’s public spotlight — and status as the Fortune 500's first openly gay CEO — to bring attention to the persecution of gay men and women happening on our own shores.
Harrisburg remains the example closest to my heart, but it’s encouraging to watch companies from all over the country embrace corporate responsibility.
Image credit: Flickr/Jim Bowen
Daniel Faris studied journalism at the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University. You can join him at Only Slightly Biased for conversations about politics, The Byte Beat for insight into emerging technology, and New Music Friday for thoughts on progressive music.