“Our corporate social responsibility is our best kept secret.”
What compels a company with 52,000 employees and with over 140 years of systems in place to publish a CSR report?
For professional services giant Marsh & McLennan, as CSR Director Christine Salerno put it, there was an urgency “to put a stake in the ground.” The company, following shortly on the footsteps of a rebranding initiative [from Marsh to Marsh & McLennan], released its first CSR report, complete with a press briefing at its New York headquarters, late last month.
At first — and second — glance, the Marsh CSR report is 21 pages of text and very little data. What the executives present at the briefing, however, had to say, was far more enlightening and worth noting.
After Silvia Davi, head of corporate communications and brand introduced the panel — an all-women team of Chief Sustainability Officer Elizabeth Barry, Chief Diversity Officer Kathryn Komsa and Salerno — Barry started off with some forward-looking statements.
“We were doing a lot [in sustainability] but we needed structure. Now we can gain much more from the same efforts by implementing them as part of a long term strategy,” she said, adding that, “This is not about today, this is about tomorrow.”
Our work in CSR is our best kept secret. Now we have decided to collaborate and communicate our successes and challenges because colleague education and engagement are key to the success of our sustainability strategy.
Pointing to a slide that charted key accomplishments since 2010, Barry noted that a majority of the data points were yet to occur. For example, the company is set to launch an internal “Green Traveler” program aimed at helping employees’ cut down their carbon footprint by educating them on telecommunication alternatives, etc. Also to follow later in the year: A “Paper Reduction Campaign” as well as a “Sustainability 101 Training Program.”
“I want everyone in the company to know that they are committing to a longterm strategy,” she emphasized. “Sustainability starts with people and our behavior and if every colleague made one tiny change, the impact collectively can be huge. It’s not a quick process but it is truly more sustainable.”
2. Diversity & Inclusion
The mission for CDO Komsa, who started in her current role in 2009, was “to create an enterprise-wide diversity and inclusion strategy.” “Our challenges are finding the right talent, resources, and the right market share in a multicultural world,” she said, adding a common refrain among the B2B sector, “Our raw material is our people and a diversity platform becomes a great way of creating shared value.”
Komsa also touched on an issue that has had insurance companies scratching their heads in recent years: How do you make a career in insurance sexy and attractive?
Noting that this is a big challenge and opportunity for Marsh, Komsa emphasized that her, “Team’s leading initiatives in coming months will be to tie in the four companies [Oliver Wyman, Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Mercer] and rebrand the insurance industry by emphasizing how we source our talent.”
3. Community Relations, Volunteerism, Philanthropy
Salerno who is an ex-investment banker chose to begin with a review of past challenges: “This is something that has always been done. What has been missing is the communications piece. There has been no cross collaboration internally within the units.”
“Our business case is to make sure that our CSR activities are creating impact in the communities we operate in and for our employees,” she added, noting that, “An engaged employee wants to stay. We want to make sure we are attracting the right people.”
The connection between CSR and recruitment is an increasingly acute problem for recruiters, especially in the B2B sector, where the commodity for sale isn’t so much a physical unit but organizational culture, intellectual growth and innovation. How do you leverage CSR as a recruitment strategy? [Join me at one of eight breakfast sessions on analyzing this very question starting next month.]
“Students coming out of college want to work for companies that are doing the right thing. Our strength is our people. So how do we use our biggest assets to create maximum impact?” Salerno responded.
4: Climate Change
In response to Business Ethics Publisher and veteran journalist Michael Connor’s question about setting goals on climate change, Barry pointed to the unique challenges of operating in cities like New York, where most companies don’t own their real estate. “Goals are hard for a professional services company. And when you add a lease to the equation, it becomes even harder. In most cases, we are in the middle of 10-year leases so in the interim, we are finding other ways to set goals, like how to reduce our real estate portfolio altogether.”
5: What Does Successful CSR Look Like for a Fortune 250 Company?
Employee engagement has always been a huge component of my blogs in the past because I truly believe that getting your employees on your side is half the battle for most companies struggling with reputation issues. They can be your best brand ambassadors and I asked the Marsh team what success looked like for all their CSR and sustainability efforts: A significant decrease in air travel, a certain number of LEED certifications, an internally set women and minority retention rate, or something else?
Repeating that they launched the CSR report as a way of putting a stake in the ground, Salerno emphasized that, “Employee engagement is a crucial piece and trying to quantify our efforts and rolling out a system to measure our activities has them talking.”
“We’re getting the information out there and they are discussing it,” she said, to which Komsa added that, “piles of resumes have been pouring in because the work we do aligns with someone’s values. That means our employees are talking, which is a huge win for us.”
Barry, however, might have put it best:
“This report doesn’t have as many foundations but it is an important story to tell. We don’t have all the answers but we do want to get started on finding them.”
At the end of the day, Marsh isn’t looking to solve the water crisis or achieve a zero carbon footprint. Their goals are moderate and their CSR report reflects a forward-looking attitude that is encouraging.
That they have a team in place approaching CSR strategically — and a lot more holistically than many other companies — is the right start.