When people see my business card or ask me what I do, the next question always is, “What’s corporate sustainability?” They often think that it means keeping a company afloat. That’s only part of it!
Times have changed. People want to know more about where the materials come from that make their products. It matters to them that their coffee is fair trade, that their food wasn’t made with mystery meat or by destroying rainforests, and their shoes were not assembled in some sweatshop by five-year-olds halfway around the world. In other words, they are holding companies accountable.
If you want to get a better idea of what I mean by that, there was a certain candy company who had a palm oil problem back in 2010. Greenpeace discovered that the palm oil they were using was being harvested in an awful, irresponsible manner by a company in Indonesia and was destroying the habitat of orangutans. Greenpeace first asked nicely, and then started a highly effective social media campaign to educate their base of consumers about what was going on. They targeted this particular company for a few reasons: first, brand recognition: it is a huge, well-known brand. Second, they worked with the ill-reputable supplier, and third: they were a huge purchaser of palm oil in general. The campaign forced the candy people to make a response and to implement changes.
My job is to figure that stuff out before it becomes a problem. There are a few strategies to dealing with these things.
First, you need to know and understand the supply chain. If you are working with materials, you can’t just go with the cheapest supplier anymore. You have to not only know where it is coming from but how they’re getting it. As a company, you can put pressure on suppliers to do things in an ethical, environmentally sound manner.
Second: corporate accounting. People don’t want to hear about CEOs getting billion-dollar bonuses while their products are made for 10 cents each by taking advantage of a developing nation. The money-is-everything mentality no longer applies. You can make a nice profit, satisfy your shareholders, and compensate ALL employees (whether they are in the same country as corporate HQ or somewhere else) fairly. There is a balancing act here but it is possible.
Third is branding. Let people know what you’re doing: tell them you are a company with values and then show them how you incorporate that into your business practices. If you want to be known as an ethical company, you need to make sure your brand reflects your mission. Release reports to keep people updated on your progress.
The main concept here is simple: if your supply chain is sourced ethically and responsibly, you assure access to the supply in the long term. That’s better for the longevity of your business. If you treat all employees with fairness and compensate them accordingly, you ensure their loyalty and will get better quality work. If you successfully market your brand as an ethical and responsible company, you gain public respect and trust. Then when it comes time to purchase a product, people are more likely to choose the one they trust.
With corporate sustainability, everyone wins.
Choosing companies to invest in can be hard work. Finding out that they have bad business practices can make things even harder. If you’re like me, you want to invest money in companies who are mindful of the environment and their employees, and have a moral compass that does not just point toward making more money. Fortunately, thanks to good reporting and the internet, we know more about companies than ever before.
Sometimes it can be hard to believe, but there really are companies out there who are trying to make a difference and who want to show you that they are not soulless suits looting the environment and taking advantage of poor laborers. So how can you invest both smartly for your future and in a way that doesn’t make you feel morally bankrupt? You just have to find those companies.
For starters, decide what is important to you. Do you have religious beliefs that you want companies to align with? Is being environmentally conscious your biggest passion? Are there political stances you want to avoid? Doing some research following your biggest criteria will rule out some companies and highlight good options for you.
How do you do this research? I mean, many companies are not totally up front about political or religious beliefs. Or they may not go into their policies regarding their supply chains or where they get materials from. Read the company’s mission statement – that may provide some good starting points for you. Check the donor lists for political candidates you like (or don’t). If you see the company’s name, then you know where they stand.
Also, check other sources online. There may be news archives that will let you know if the company has been involved in any scandals in the past. You may not have noticed the reports at the time, or they may no longer be relevant, but you’ll feel better after looking around. If the company lists names on their website of their board members or the heads of the company, do some checking on them, too. You might be surprised at what you find!
An ethical investment usually avoids companies that negatively affect the environment, tests products or harms animals in the creation of their products, has practices that encourages discrimination or accepts unethical working conditions. You’d be surprised at how many companies get ruled out for one or more of these reasons.
You can check any potential investment company’s portfolio and do actual market research to decide if investing in them is right for you. There are also firms that specialize in ethical investments, so you can tell them what is important for you and they can help build and manage a portfolio for you. This is especially good if you are more comfortable with funds, because you don’t know the individual companies making up each fund and could have a potential conflict.
Whatever you decide, know that corporate sustainability will help everyone in the long term, so it is worth the work you put into choosing your investments!
It seems weird that I would have had a great day today. One of my favorite coworkers retired today. She wasn’t my direct boss, but she was one of the people responsible for creating my department and for hiring me. She served as a bit of a mentor, too. I will miss her so much. She was always so happy and enthusiastic about her job, which energized everyone around her and brought out their best work. I have no idea what morale is going to be like on Monday when she isn’t there with her hilarious stories of everything she did over the weekend and how happy she is to start her work week.
But the reason why it was such a good day was because we threw her a little retirement party at the office today. She knew it was coming even though we didn’t tell her outright – when you work somewhere for 30 years, you probably hope they do something – and she was delighted to see so many of us show up to the conference room to see her off. She is going to move north to spend more time with her daughter and grandkids. Again, I know this all sounds more sad (for me anyway, not her, I think spending time with family is a great way to occupy your retirement) than anything. I’ll just get to the good part. She gave a little speech. While I wish I could remember it word for word, I was able to remember most of the point of it (I need to ask for a copy):
“This company has been smart in who they hired and how they did things. It’s been an honor to be one of the people who have helped it grow into what it is today. You all should celebrate that. The path you travel from here forward is one that you will have to forge for yourself. There will be no signs, and nobody ahead of you has blazed a trail. It will probably be hard, because nobody is doing what you’re doing and there is nobody to guide you but yourselves. Rely on one another, on the standards and morals you’ve brought with you to this place. Lean on your work family and you’ll never be alone in that wilderness, and you’ll find a way. Encourage one another to be responsible and forthright, to treat everyone fairly and with respect, and do business like you’re working with your best friend. Following these guidelines will not only ensure that you’ll be proud of the work that you do and the person you become, but it will help this company stay at the top of its game. Our reputation is already good. You all will make it great.”
Hearing that made me so happy. I try to make a difference every day, even if it is something little. It felt like she was acknowledging every one of us and all the small ways we are working towards a great thing. I will miss her but doing a great job will help me remember all the good times we had. I will keep moving this company forward and reward the faith she had in me!