Boston College Corporate Citizenship Conference Delivers Bounty of Knowledge

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Boston College Corporate Citizenship Conference Delivers Bounty of Knowledge

Attendees flock to three inspiring keynote addresses and 11 informative breakout sessions
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 12:00pm

Phoenix -- Day two of the 2012 International Corporate Citizenship Conference opened at breakfast with Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Executive Director Katherine V. Smith reminding attendees of the important leadership role they play in their company. She talked about how the typical top-down organizational structure of businesses doesn’t match the networks they operate in. Much like the function of a brain, she explained, there is more symbiosis in how vital leadership and social networks interact.

Smith also presented research findings that demonstrated the gap between the social issues corporate executives feel are important to address and those that are vital in the opinion of consumers. Closing that gap will depend on the leadership of corporate citizenship professionals.

“You can’t affect the structure of the organization but you can lead from any seat in your company,” Smith said, noting the critical nature of corporate citizenship structure. “You are the indispensable connector in your leadership network for your firm.”

Karin Weaver from the Bright Horizons Foundation found Smith’s contrast of the structure of networks with hierarchical organization fascinating. “I took a lot of things home already and am thinking about how we can use this information to change what we do.”

Smith also told the audience that the Center seeks to help members develop deep knowledge regarding the issues, practices and context surrounding corporate citizenship, and that member companies are the source of much of that knowledge. “You really are the primary assets of the Center.”

In the first keynote address of the day, Brad Smith, Microsoft General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, told the audience that their job is to ensure their companies’ efforts are real; a part of the fabric of what they are as companies.

“If it’s just the cherry on top of the cake, the applause, while initially loud, typically doesn’t last,” he said.

Smith told how years ago Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer felt that he was “firing off a little popgun” when talking about the company’s philanthropy, and questioned if it was really making a difference. Ballmer wanted Microsoft to create systemic change in addressing a problem that matters to people. Microsoft then focused on computer skills training to help individuals improve their lives.

Robin Hought, who works in the San Bernardino, Calif., area with the Wells Fargo Foundation, identified strongly with Smith’s image of a popgun. “Sometimes I feel like that’s what I’m doing, too,” she said. “I’m just putting a patch on some really important social issues but how do we make a real impact? How do we touch real people?”

To make something real in a skeptical world, Smith advised, companies must be willing to put themselves out there a bit to persuade skeptics of the sincerity of what they are doing. “Have a little edge” to test your company to give more momentum to overall efforts and bring your voice together with deeds. “It allowed us to build something bigger than a popgun.”

Smith remarked that every large institution needs a conscience, and while that it is not the only voice it is one that must be heard. “Corporate citizenship is being the conscious of a company in a rapidly changing and complex time” he said. “It is work that is real.”

Commerce With Compassion

After a Networking Luncheon hosted by Target, James Nevels, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Hershey Company, shared a story of Hershey’s corporate citizenship and his personal journey.

Nevels spoke of his own business philosophy and the values he brings to the Hershey board. As a young boy in Alabama he learned ethical principles from his grandfather – a nickel-a-week salesman of burial insurance policies – when he was given the job of recording payments. The lessons he has applied in his investment advisory firm, The Swarthmore Group, and on the Hershey board, are as follows:

No. 1 – “Never ask someone to do something you would not do yourself.”

No. 2 – “Tell the truth to your clients. If you do lie, you’ll have a helluva time remembering what you told them if you didn’t tell them the truth to begin with.”

No. 3 – “Provide value in all shapes and forms,” meaning, “be a good neighbor, be a responsible business person, and be an individual who cares about those around them.”

Nevels added one other admonition from his grandfather: You do well by doing good. He compared this last piece of advice to the legacy of Hershey founder Milton S. Hershey, who described his philosophy as “commerce with compassion.” That philosophy is embodied by the Milton Hershey School, founded in 1909 to provide a home and school for orphan boys. Today that school provides a cost-free co-educational home and school for children from families of low income, limited resources and social need.

Hershey’s contribution to community today extends well beyond its Pennsylvania roots to West Africa, where farmers grow the cocoa used to make Hershey’s chocolate. Many of those farmers live in what Nevels described as “impoverished conditions,” still using use the same growing practices as their grandfathers. Hershey is now part of a partnership with the Ghana Cocoa Board and the World Cocoa Foundation to help improve the yield of cocoa farms and the farmers’ lives. This includes an innovative program in Ghana called CocoaLink, which uses cell phones to provide farmers with previously hard to access information on weather, farming techniques, and laws and regulations.

While improving cocoa farming in Ghana is one concern, companies like Hershey face continuing scrutiny about the issue of child labor on cocoa farms. Hershey has been tackling the issue for years but Nevels noted “it’s clear to all of us that much more needs to be done.”

This issue is a particularly personal one for Nevels, an African-American who visited the coast of Ghana and learned about the ordeal of his ancestors who were enslaved from those very same shores. “Why would I want to be part of any effort that would continue to enslave my kinsmen?” he asked rhetorically. “I would not! We’re working on that complex problem.”

Sustainability: Bottom Line Impact

Monday’s final keynote session featured a team from Ernst & Young. Beth Rosemond, Assistant Director of Corporate Responsibility, facilitated a conversation by her colleagues Brendan LeBlanc, Executive Director, Climate Change and Sustainability Services, and Leisha John, Americas Director of Environmental Sustainability, where they discussed the findings of the Ernst & Young and GreenBiz Group Survey on Sustainability Reporting.

LeBlanc, who works with Ernst & Young clients on sustainability, and John, who is responsible for the firm’s internal sustainability efforts, offered their perspective on growing trends in corporate sustainability. LeBlanc was particularly struck by two of the top three sustainability drivers cited by those surveyed. The fact that cost reduction was the leading driver came as no surprise to the two accountants. But LeBlanc said it was particularly noteworthy that the No. 2 driver was “meeting stakeholder expectations” followed by “managing risk,” calling this fertile ground for corporate citizenship professionals to make the case for their efforts.

John and LeBlanc shared how the survey reflects what is happening at Ernst & Young and presented six key findings:

  1. The CFO’s role in sustainability is on the rise.
  2. Despite regulatory uncertainty, greenhouse gas reporting remains strong, along with growing interest in water.
  3. Sustainability reporting is growing but the tools are still developing.
  4. Awareness is on the rise regarding the scarcity of business resources.
  5. Employees emerge as a key stakeholder group for sustainability programs and reporting.
  6. Rankings and ratings matter to company executives.

Asked what advice she could offer companies on their sustainability efforts, John responded that “meaningful metrics are crucial” to creating increased credibility.

LeBlanc offered a corollary to the wisdom of measuring what you manage. “Figure out what it is you want to manage,” he said, stressing the need for a “stakeholder materiality analysis” starting with employees. He added that the sooner corporate citizenship professionals can connect the dots between long-term value creating and their sustainability efforts the better.

Film Festival Trophy Awarded

The long day of learning and networking was topped off with some star power when the 2012 Corporate Citizenship Film Festival trophy was awarded to FedEx. One of 67 entries in the fourth annual competition, FedEx won for the second time with a video telling the story of its partnership with Orbis, the world’s only airborne eye training and surgical center.

Finish With a Flourish

The conference continues Tuesday with a keynote address by Trisa Thompson, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Dell, host of our Networking Breakfast. It will be followed by a busy morning, with attendees choosing two breakout sessions to attend from the remaining dozen. Those who could not attend the conference, or attendees who had a hard time choosing between breakout sessions, can check out other Center blog posts providing highlights from many of the sessions.

The final keynote address of the 2012 International Corporate Citizenship Conference will be a luncheon presentation by David Jones, Global CEO of Havas and author of the best-selling new book, “Who Cares Wins: Why Good Business is Better Business”.

Stay tuned to the Center blog for more news out of Phoenix as we finish with a flourish. We will again provide highlights from sessions and a daily wrap-up. If you don’t already receive the Center blog, click here to subscribe and get the latest news. Follow us on Twitter at #BCConf12 and don’t forget to stay with the blog after the conference for expanded coverage.