Corporate Responsibility Needed at Uber, Says GreenBiz Presenter

Corporate Responsibility Needed at Uber, Says GreenBiz Presenter

It’s routine for massively successful startups like Uber to inspire or unnerve executives of the legacy businesses being disrupted by the sharing economy.

But Monday was anything but routine at GreenBiz, where an opening session on the circular economy took a detour to focus on Uber’s lack of corporate responsibility.

“That’s not the kind of design we want to put into the world,” Steelcase Inc.’s Angela Nahikian said of Uber’s focus on growth rather than ensuring the safety of customers and the communities where the ride-sharing service operates. “That’s not really how we want to manage our brands.

Nahikian, who is director of global environmental sustainability for the 104-year-old manufacturer of office furniture, said the company’s Grand Rapids, Michigan, headquarters is commuting distance from Kalamazoo, site of this past weekend’s fatal shootings of six people.

Police in Kalamazoo say the accused killer was an Uber driver who picked up passengers between his shooting attacks.

Uber’s chief security officer, Joseph Sullivan, was quoted by Michigan media as saying, “I don’t think we will change our screening process for drivers as a result of this incident.”

The Steelcase sustainability program, which dates back 20 years, began with a supply-chain focus on textiles and evolved into product development and studies of how office workers perform their jobs.  The firm, which has a market cap over $1.5 billion, now designs interiors for health care and educational workplaces and is focusing on how to reduce the inefficiencies of having offices sit unused for up to 70 percent of the time.

The Steelcase executive, who pointed to the company’s values during her presentation, was not the only GreenBiz presenter who emphasized the challenges of competing with new category leaders that seemingly appeared overnight.

Steven Swartz, principal of McKinsey’s Center for Business and Environment, referenced Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s seeming lack of concern about corporate reputation in the backdrop of consumers who say, “That guy at Uber is a jerk but they’ll come in four minutes and charge me seven bucks.”