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On Monday I was at the Conference Board’s Center for Sustainability annual summit to present on sustainability and social media. I decided to try Prezi after having seen Realized Worth’s Chris Jarvis use it with aplomb at the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s annual conference earlier this year.
Here then is my presentation:
And while you’re at, why not take this quick survey on the relationship between brand management and social media?
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Think again, especially if you work in recruitment or human resources.
My latest editorial on CSRWire: The Power of Hiring Right: A Value Proposition that Most Recruiters Continue to Ignore
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“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.
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Last year, the Better Business Bureau hosted an event titled Good Business 2010, where the day-long agenda was to analyze the increasing confluence of public relations (PR) and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Here’s what I wrote then on Vault’s CSR blog:
A Belief System For Your Company
Edelman’s EVP for CSR-New York, Michael Holland while highlighting his firm’s approach, emphasized that corporate responsibility was emerging increasingly as an indelible part of brand management for companies, although North American companies, while initially slow to embrace it, were quickly getting on board.
Defining CR as “A belief system for a company” he broke its significance for companies into three segments: 1) the social and legal aspect; 2) its immersion into the operational model; and 3) how to leverage it for competitive share in the marketplace.
What is the ROI for corporate responsibility?
Citing a recent survey conducted by McKinsey, Holland said that the business case for corporate responsibility had never been clearer for companies. “Companies that paid attention to CSR in the last three years reported an increase in their share price of 43% against a 12% increase for those who didn’t.” At the same time, profits for the first segment of companies increased by 16% versus 7%. I’ve often noted that metrics and numbers speak louder than words. These then, need no further explanation. See more results from the McKinsey survey.
Noting that the pressure for accountability was no longer the voice of a few dedicated advocates and had shifted to mainstream demands from all stakeholders for a company, Holland stressed that the tipping point was already here: “CR cannot be ignored any longer. Shareholders, employees and clients are demanding it.“
What is corporate responsibility all about?
Holland, interestingly, chose to answer this by focusing on the key misconceptions about corporate responsibility. Funnily enough his counter-intuitive tactic worked, bringing up several questions from the audience. He put it like this:
CSR ≠ Green
CSR ≠ Strategic Philanthropy
CSR ≠ Public Relations
CSR isn’t PR, it’s About Your Business Strategy
I have discussed in the past the huge difference between conducting brand management and reputation-building and immersing CR as a culture of change into your company’s strategy. I asked Holland how he advises clients to walk that fine line.
“First of all, it needs to start from the top. Secondly, it needs to part of a company’s communication strategy. And finally you need to define what it means to track the progress of your corporate responsibility. The problem is that the marketplace believes that CSR is cause marketing and philanthropy. Our task is to overrule that and teach them that actually it’s about business strategy.”
Now, with several communications firms announcing CSR practices, where are we headed with the confluence of PR, brand management and CSR? I turned to the latest entrant in the field, Ruder Finn. Take a read.
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There is a lot of love for social media among many in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability community. [Take this short survey and have your say: Useful, necessary engagement tool or hate it and a complete hassle?]
Lucy Marcus, founder of Marcus Venture Consulting, for example, posted a blog today on Harvard Business Review, that talks about a particular Groupon deal that annoyed her enough to tweet about it and how that rose several eyebrows and an eventual resolution.
David Connor recently wrote about his love for Twitter, calling it a fascination and being constantly impressed by the simplicity of engagement and the tangible sense of community the platform provides. In his post, he alluded to a recent confession of mine, simply titled: In Defense of Twitter: 5 Reasons Why I am a Mad Tweeter, which was a response to an alternatively headlined Wall Street Journal article.
For those interested, here is a recount of my top five:
1) Community: Twitter has provided me with a very diverse community of individuals who are eager to engage, argue and collaborate.
2) Soundboard: Without the 20 odd tweets I send out every day, I wouldn’t get any work done. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know—but it’s true. You’ve got to go where your audience is. They have a voice and they like to use it—and as a blogger, hearing what’s working and what’s not is inarguably essential.
3) Collaborations: And of course, without Twitter, I wouldn’t have made HR Examiner‘s Top 25 HR Digital Influencers for 2011 or named among the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America. Nor would I have been able to successfully put together the recent panel on responsible business with Carol Sanford, Jeffrey Hollender, Sarah Murray and Bank of America, or been able to interview thought leaders like Campbell Soup’s Dave Stangis, PwC’s Shannon Schuyler, EMC’s Kathrin Winkler and many others while at Vault—and collaborated with enterprising students like Ashley Jablow, Catherine Chong, entrepreneurs like Myles Lutheran and the EDF Climate Corp fellows, or published the much-referred to series on job hunting in CSR.
4) News: Believe it or not, Twitter has become a significant source of my daily news. With the help of coordinated lists, I can scan the morning news in one stream all at one source.
5) Innovation: How many times have you read an 800-word article in one the mainstream newspapers and thought “Wow, that’s interesting, I wonder how I could learn more” or “I’d love to get involved” but haven’t known what to do next? Well, because it’s so easy to connect with others on Twitter without having to jot down strenuous emails or phone calls, now you can!
But Connor also brought up transparency and corporate accountability.
And here is where most companies struggle with the plethora of choices available today under the domain of social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and the new kids on the block BranchOut and Google+, to name just a few.
So, how helpful are these channels? BRANDfog, a social media and CSR consulting firm launched a survey last week that begins to dig deeper into some of these questions.
Should CEOs be engaging on Twitter for example? Does that help gain trust with customers, loyalty with employees, or raise the bar on transparency?
Has social media become a benchmarking tool for prospective candidates in their recruitment decisions?
And does a presence on social media help companies illustrate their brand values, mission and corporate citizenship?
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If ever we needed proof that conventional development approaches are failing to address poverty, disease and malnutrition, the 10 year checkpoint for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals provided it.
The shortfalls in achievement in parts of Africa and South Asia cruelly expose the limits of our current efforts. Debate has recently turned to how business, governments and NGOs can work together in ways that align commercial self-interest with societal value. But the emergence of a ‘convergence economy‘ will disrupt incumbent development providers and ask many questions of businesses.
The Good News… and The Bad News
The good news is that the struggle against seemingly intractable problems such as malaria, drought and extreme poverty coincides with a time when global companies are looking for new markets. It’s no surprise, therefore, that NGOs and the private sector are increasingly working together. But all too often this collaboration is for one-off projects and conducted at arm’s length.
Business provides funds and NGOs deliver solutions. This may give business a license to operate in new territories, but it misses a large opportunity to transform communities for the long-term.
What is the Convergence Economy?
It is based on a merging of issues: Water, sanitation, education and disease, for instance, can only be addressed effectively together. It recognizes that the interests of NGOS do not run counter to those of business. And this results in a convergence of solutions, where it no longer matters whose logo is on the product or service that is improving the welfare of communities.
We are all aware of how leading brands are supporting local communities and farmers, but beyond ethical supply chains and community based business practices, some businesses will have to consider more radical transformations of their operations.
We can expect to see hybrid organizations that genuinely bring together NGOs and businesses in newly formed entities that have joint and flexible value chains at their heart. Danone’s collaboration with Grameen in Bangladesh illustrates this and has resulted in entirely new products to combat infant malnutrition. In some cases, we can expect the private sector to receive grants rather than NGOs.
The ‘convergence economy’ therefore requires businesses to create new business and operating models in local markets and to identify where they may have the best capabilities to ‘touch’ local communities in place of or in partnership with traditional aid providers. These new businesses or subsidiaries may be in joint partnerships with NGOs and other players.
For solutions to be sustainable, they will need to feed back local innovations into the broader business to maximize commercial benefit. To maintain their commitment, they will have to persuade shareholders that these commitments with longer term pay back periods are essential for future growth.
What does the convergence economy mean for NGOs?
According to our survey with the United Nations Global Compact of 766 CEOs, 27 percent of CEOs saw NGOs as key stakeholders in areas of sustainability in 2007. That figure fell to just 15% in 2010.
NGOs will still occupy a vital position in development—indeed they must, as they possess the local knowledge and knowhow, but they will see their role changing.
NGOs will act as coordinators, not just providers.
They will attract investment finance as well as seeking grants. They will support free markets as a tool for development. This means adopting new capabilities and, to some extent, a new cultural outlook. In the same way private sector companies are used to disaggregating their businesses and outsourcing non-core operations, NGOs will have to redesign their structure and purpose.
They will need a venture capital mentality to create conditions for investment.
The convergence of development and commercial enterprise is not therefore merely about ethical supply chains or profit seekers embracing a broader definition of value. It is about a far deeper and more fluid operational collaboration across sectors. As multinationals enter new markets, they will have to redesign their models and assist NGOS to do the same.
Then, what could be seen as a marriage of convenience today can become a more committed and productive long-term relationship in the future.
–By Gib Bulloch, Executive Director, Accenture Development Partnerships
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Last year, Accenture co-produced a report with the United Nations Global Compact titled A New Era of Sustainability: CEO reflections on progress to date, challenges ahead and the impact of the journey toward a sustainable economy. The report focused on examining three main questions with 766 CEOs serving as respondents: 1) Sustainability is changing—how is your company addressing it?; 2) Next step: Taking it from strategy to execution; and 3) What’s ahead: Competing in an era of sustainability.
The BIG finding from the report: 93 percent of 766 CEOs surveyed believe that sustainability will be “important” or “very important” to the future success of their company.
Now, Accenture has produced a followup sector by sector report that offers more clarity — and a wide disparity in this percentage — to the overarching aggregated data by doing a deeper dive by industry.
For example, 100 percent of executives in the automotive and consumer products industries see sustainability as critical to their success but only 68 percent of banking executives see sustainability as “very important” to their future success, and 63 percent reporting that “their company is integrating sustainability ‘much more’ than five years ago.”
As for the communications sector, the percentage of executives seeing sustainability as “very important” to future growth drops to a mere 22 percent.
From Sustainability Strategy to Sustainable Business Practices
As the above-mentioned three questions indicate, however, the 2010 report attempted to be forward-looking in its data. Indicating a wide disconnect between the perceived importance of environmental, social and corporate governance for companies, and how these play in business strategy, the report pointed out that “while the belief in the strategic importance of sustainability issues is widespread among CEOs, executives continue to struggle to approach them as part and parcel of core business strategy.”
The new, follow-up report, adds teeth to this initial observation by showing a disparate practice of sustainable business practices across industries.
While 80 percent of utility industries report embedding sustainability metrics to track performance, 83 percent of CEOs in energy and 81 percent in infrastructure say their “company measures both positive and negative impacts of their activities on sustainability outcomes.”
Is sustainability measurement finally becoming accepted standard practice?
While this aggregated data might indicate so, the reality, according to Accenture’s Managing Director for Sustainability Services for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America Peter Lacy, is that there remain “major gaps remain between CEO ambition and execution.” As evidence, the report offers the automotive industry as an example:
“Ninety-five percent of automotive executives believe that companies should invest in enhanced training of managers to integrate sustainability into strategy and operations, but just 52 percent report that their company already does so.”
Analyzing Sustainability Enthusiasm In a Recession
When Accenture’s New Era of Sustainability report
came out in June last year, I chose to go with a positive headline. I titled my detailed analysis as “Sustainability Moves from Discretionary Choice to Corporate Priority.”
Today, as we deal with a downgraded credit rating for the country of everyone’s dreams, a recession that might never have ended, and businesses once again returning to cautious growth, that optimism is hard to replicate. Troubled by debate after debate (subjects varied from accountability to Wal-mart, upstream recycling to upcycling, compensation limits, and much more) during the recent Sustainable Business Practices workshop held at the University of Vermont, several of the students jested that “Sustainability, after all, is a journey.”
I would add that it is also a mindset: A mindset that understands that business goals (profits, profits, profits) cannot be reached without taking into account the society and the environment you operate in and the human capital that helps you succeed. Will the rest of the sectors detailed in Accenture’s report follow through on their CEOs’ ambitions?
In coming months — and years — with America’s long-term sustainability as an economic power in question, all eyes will be on whether American businesses can pull up their socks and return their operating base to trustworthy status by using sustainability as a guiding principle. Where government fails, business steps in, right fellow #csrchat attendees?
Thoughts? Don’t forget to leave a comment or connect with me @AmanSinghCSR.
Next: Gib Bulloch, Executive Director of Accenture Development Partnerships discusses the report in Capabilities for the Convergence Economy.
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Because we expect ambitious and aggressive goals from leaders, and at Timberland, this expectation is part of everyone’s job.
Before the boot maker announced its new set of revised sustainability goals earlier this week, I caught up with Timberland’s new Vice President for CSR Mark Newton on his new role, the goals, as well as their latest efforts at stakeholder engagement: Timberland’s new Communications Portal.
Sustainability: From Apple and Dell to Timberland
Newton, who has spent his entire career working on sustainability at electronics giants like Motorola, Apple, and most recently Dell, understands that the road ahead will be rocky as Timberland completes its merger with VF. VF owns several outdoor brands like The NorthFace, Wrangler, Jansport and Nautica.
We started with the new 2015 goals. What’s new about them?
“Focus,” said Newton. “Moving forward it is very important that we create focus for our companies, including a commitment to innovate from cradle to cradle.”
Timberland’s 2015 Sustainability Goals
Set in four broad categories of Climate, Product, Factories and Service; the goals are ambitious and aggressive, if not new or radically life-changing. I asked Newton the purpose of each category.
Climate: “This is a topical focus for us if not so much a functional one. But we’re not saying we’re going to be singularly focused on climate change but that this affects our customers and decisions and therefore, we must equip them with decisions and the right products.”
Product: “At some point we all want to start creating innovations that have a zero footprint. The idea is to move toward a vision of a closed loop product lifecycle. You can see where we are and where we want to go. It is directionally correct.”
Factories: “We have an obligation that is not just transactional to our suppliers, employees and other stakeholders. The whole idea of sustainability is to stay in business. In perpetuity, we cannot do that without treating our employees well and scaling our business properly.”
Service: “Timberland was founded on the idea of commerce and justice, of giving back and creating value. We offer our employees 40 hours to volunteer every year. Today we are asking what the impact of that workforce is. Where are we going with this, how do we prioritize our efforts and do it well?”
What underlines all of these goals and their success, however, is engaging and changing consumer behavior.
Changing Consumer Behavior: Timberland-style or VF-style?
Earlier this year, at the Annual GreenBiz conference, Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz said that sometimes companies have to lead consumers by taking a stand on what is right. “You cannot always wait for consumer demand to dictate your decisions,” he said.
Now with Timberland becoming a part of the VF family, are dynamics shifting? Will the merger bring a renewed and united effort in the apparel industry to shift consumer behavior or lead to inertia and inaction?
I put the question to Newton, who while new in his role, is a veteran in the consumer products industry. “We are having several conversations around this. We are Timberland and we will always be that. This is the reason people are interested in EarthKeepers and we will continue to move the needle,” he said.
What about Swartz’s inspiring declaration? Newton offered Timberland’s EarthKeepers product line as an example:
“The ultimate goal of every company that is working on sustainability is to be able to drive top line growth because of its sustainability efforts. It’s very rare to see top line growth associated with these things, many companies are running leaner and end up staying within compliance. At Timberland, our EarthKeepers product line is actually doing that with double-digit growth in the first quarter.”
Authentic Communications: Engage the Consumer, not Just Inform
With skepticism already high in the market, there is a fine line between selling more units and ensuring responsible consumerism. EarthKeepers seems to be clearly bucking the trend and providing a new, profitable way of doing business sustainably.
Was this growth the result of consumer education, eco labels, or increased communication?
“Authenticity. We’re finding success because it is authentic. We are intentionally focused on products that are environmentally friendly and socially conscious. And we are committed to continually communicating that. We’re not waiting for everything to become perfect, we’re putting it out there and calibrating it as it evolves,” he said.
Examples? Newton offered the eco-index, which Timberland was instrumental in creating and pushing out. “We are promoting the index so we can create real change and movement. That’s exciting and offers us a chance to drive real, calculable change,” he added.
What VF brings to the table then is scale. “VF has been a partner for years on making the process much more efficient. Now the merger will allow us to collectively drive things that Timberland alone simply cannot do. This bigger opportunity is huge for us,” he emphasized, adding, “It’s also not just forward-looking things and what we can do upstream. VF has a very efficient process in place because of their brands. We have had limited impact there but now we can have much more.”
Timberland’s New Communications Portal: CSR in Real Time
With Timberland already being aggressively visible and vocal in the consumer marketplace, why did Newton and team feel the need to launch a new CSR communications portal?
“We’re segmenting the conversations on our website around products and around topics so everyone has a better sense of clarity. Even though our authenticity ensures that sustainability conversations become natural in all parts of our business and you don’t have to go to the CSR portal to have a CSR conversation, we felt that different stakeholders have different perspectives. You can still go to the products portal and have the same conversation as you would on the CSR portal, because the intentional design, how we conduct business with suppliers and community issues are woven into the product and the product description.”
Why then is the new portal necessary if sustainability is so intricately embedded into the work culture at Timberland?
“We are having conversations with a very vast and diverse spectrum of people, from wholesalers and retailers to direct consumers. They all come with very different demands and perspectives and we want to offer them the opportunity to engage in the language they understand best,” he explained.
Fully integrated with social media tools, the portal is designed for consumers looking for details on green products, interesting stories and much more. Not only can you go to the redesigned portal and discuss Timberland products, you can also discuss the team’s CSR efforts, join ongoing conversations through their Bootmakers blog, and chime in on more topical discussions around the Green index and climate change.
Admittedly, many companies continue to struggle with this balance between preserving the granular stuff and promoting more general conversations around products.
For Timberland, the answer was to lead in both.
“People can go granular as they want or stay as generalist as they’d like. What’s different about the portal is that we are not starting conversations by discussing one of our pillars or metrics but focusing on stories that matter and then getting to the things that are underneath those stories; this marks a fundamental shift for our website,” Newton added.
Being a communications geek, I can definitely attest to Newton’s excitement about this new portal. The ability to throw open your business practices and product lifecycle to your stakeholders takes gumption and a resolute belief in transparency.
The Timberland team knows that this throws the door open to endless questions and scrutiny but Swart’z recruits are used to that and know that open engagement is the only way to maintain authenticity and empower their stakeholders toward sustainability and a zero impact footprint.
This is mission critical for Timberland.
As Newton put it, “Regardless of what happens post-merger, we are all in this together. Our values are integrated into all of us and everyone who works here. Jeff Swartz might be the leader but you can expect to hear the same things from all of us.”
This is Timberland’s — and VF’s — opportunity to drive the apparel industry toward a more sustainable future. The 2015 goals are the means to an end, a future that VF and Timberland can now together impact much more powerfully.
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At a recent workshop on how to pursue a career in CSR, I asked students at the University of Minnesota how they define CSR. Some of their answers:
“Weaving sustainability, community responsibility, and diversity in any business role.”
“Considering all stakeholders (customer, employees, community) when making a business decision.”
“I define [it] as how the company does college student become a CSR practitioner?
While the essential job search in itself is undoubtedly important, identifying how you define CSR is more important for two reasons: 1) CSR jobs — or jobs with the specific title of CSR/sustainability — are scarce; and 2) The continuing lack of standardized scope and skills attributed with these jobs doesn’t make for a very structured job search.
This dual combination then makes it even more crucial that you understand which thread of CSR really interests you, because there are several.
Nancy Lublin from doSomething.org made an obtuse reference to this at the recent UN Social Innovation Summit, noting that most of the panelists with her were founders of something. “Everyone cannot be a founder,” she said. “It’s okay to join stuff.”
While Lublin was referring to social innovation, her comment applies to all of us: We don’t need to reinvent the wheel on responsible and ethical behavior—you just need to have a clear idea of where you stand on it, and how you can apply that to your job search.
So, how does a college student become a CSR practitioner? Here’s my two cents:
1. Define CSR: What does that mean to you — and your career?
If you are a great communicator and enjoy writing, then marketing would be a good fit. But if research, analysis and data are your passions, then working on CSR reporting would be a better fit.
And if working with people or organizing things is your deal, then HR or even community relations could prove to be better fits.
You get the idea.
2. Identify required skills
Now that you know what you would enjoy doing, evaluate your bucket of skills. Continuing with one of the examples above, if data gathering and analysis is your forte, here’s a few things that should be on your Skills Checklist:
- • Understanding of what kind of data is used by companies in CSR reporting
- • How this data is collected
- • Industry standards
- • Thorough knowledge of the structure and organization of CSR reports
- • Certifications: One that instantly comes to mind is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards, which many more companies — and universities — are starting to adopt.
3. It’s time to think: Brand Awareness
Start building your personal brand. Blog: write about your passion, why you want to work in the field, your motivations, etc. (It might be for free but you’ll get a better-than-decent ROI if you’re seen by the right people.) Write for publications and websites, both mainstream and niche. Meet with like-minded students who are pursuing similar interests. Join your local Net Impact chapter. Arrange informational interviews with the faculty.
These conversations will go a long way towards helping you decide whether to pursue what you are passionate or change course: Either way, a huge benefit.
4. Get practical experience
Internships: Incredibly important. Pursue as many as possible in your four years at college because that’s the time when you have the least to lose.
Internships will give you the hands-on experience that no number of years spent in college can provide. But use these opportunities responsibly because there aren’t many out there. Network, approach each day as a new lap you need to complete, seek out projects, volunteer, focus on demonstrating your skills, and share your opinion.
And learn to fail.
When you do (not if), pick up the pieces and continue on, or start over—both are perfectly okay. Failures later in life will sting a lot more, so fail early and learn well.
5. Social Media: Learn to be a bystander and listen
Another skill that I just cannot overstate the importance of. While you build your personal brand–whether through blogging, research papers, tweeting, commentary on Facebook or the college newspaper—be sure to share it with others. And demand feedback: the good and the bad.
Listen to what is being written about the subject, who the prominent speakers are, the movers, the exemplified, the ridiculed (you’ll learn from both, trust me), the practitioners.
In the end, use your skills to guide your job search. Once at a company, let your passion guide you in creating the change you want to see happen. We can no longer afford to stand outside and point fingers.