Making Sustainability Part of Your Corporate Culture

BY Lisa Jaffe | April 11, 2022

The alphabet soup and jargon that accompanies business trends can be confusing, and the sustainability sector is no different. There is BAT (best available techniques), CDSB (Climate Disclosure Standards Board), and EPR (extended producer responsibility). Some of these acronyms are well-defined and widely understood, but others are not. At a From Day One webinar titled, “Making Sustainability Part of Your Corporate Culture,” a panel of leaders in the field discussed just what the most encompassing of these terms, ESG (environmental, social, and governance criteria), means now–and why it’s more important than ever for corporations to show that they’re not just paying lip service. One big reason: now more than ever, employees and other stakeholders take sustainability seriously.

Moderated by Eric Roston, the sustainability editor of Bloomberg News, the panel started by defining just what ESG means to them. “It’s one of those deeply arcane acronyms to really hit the big time–a little bit like your after-school softball buddy making it to the World Series,” Roston quipped.

Each of the five participants had a slightly different take. For Sunya Norman, the VP of ESG strategy and engagement for Salesforce, ESG is about “figuring out how your business model can transform to align with the needs of the planet and society, and to thrive over the long term. How do you create value for your investors if you’re a public company, but also your employees, your customers, and your partners?”

AT&T extends that list of stakeholders to include the communities in which it exists, said Nicole Anderson, assistant VP of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for the company. “We are in the midst of figuring out how to really embed this within corporate culture. How is our long-term success inextricably linked with our communities? And we have to have thriving, healthy communities for a thriving and healthy business. They are symbiotic relationships.”

There has been a “bit of an identity crisis in this field of work,” Anderson continued. “We never named ourselves well. There is CSR and ESG and citizenship and sustainability, and sustainability on its own. It feels very much Sisyphean–we are entrepreneurs within our companies. But people are waking up to what this is. There is opportunity and it is exciting. A bit overwhelming, but exciting.”

Noel Anderson (no relation to Nicole Anderson) is chief sustainability officer at the Red Cross, an organization that is already seeing the impact of a lack of consideration for the environment through the increased number and severity of climate-related natural disasters. In his role, Anderson said the impact of climate change makes it ever clearer that Red Cross employees need to be environmentally and socially responsible throughout the organization. “For us, it is about communicating to our stakeholders and the communities we serve that this is our responsibility.”

At Organon, a pharmaceutical company focusing on women’s health, ESG is “an overarching description of how we describe our financial performance from a technical point of view, and also how we engage our stakeholders,” said Byron Austin, the company’s head of corporate responsibility and ESG management. The company has gone through a materiality assessment–how various processes and events can materially impact the company, its business and its stakeholders–and is deciding how to set priorities among the relevant critical ESG issues.

Lincoln Financial Group started working on ESG issues more than a decade ago, said Dawn Emling, the head of sustainability initiatives for the company. Its early entry stemmed from activists outside the company pushing for information. “We set up a CSR team as early as 2011, and instituted a sustainability advisory group as early as 2012,” she said. In 2014, the company set its first greenhouse-gas reduction targets and submitted them to the Carbon Disclosure Project. The CDP data allows the public and other players in the market to see specific company trends over time.

The Role of HR in Creating a Sustainability Culture

Less than a decade ago, the language around ESG and CSR was considered arcane, but Norman said now there is increasing understanding. “I don’t have to explain to the head of HR how diversity and inclusion fit into our ESG transparency,” she said. “Investors are asking questions during proxy season about this. That didn’t used to be the case. Now, when finance people go to conferences, they are talking about this. Real estate folks are talking about sustainably built environments. HR is talking about it. Everyone around the business is changing in a way that collectively moves the company towards this transformation.”

Speaking on sustainability, top row from left: Dawn Emling of Lincoln Financial Group and moderator Eric Roston of Bloomberg. Middle row: Sunya Norman of Salesforce, Noel Anderson of the American Red Cross and Nicole Anderson of AT&T. Bottom: Byron Austin of Organon (Image by From Day One)

AT&T’s Anderson said she thinks the real power of ESG and CSR is on employee retention. “We did a joint study with HR looking at the employees who were engaged in CSR initiatives.” The scores on satisfaction and length of employment were better for that group, and they were much more likely to say that AT&T was a great place to work. “Those are critical, especially during the Great Resignation. The power is definitely with the employee versus the employer.”

HR is the first stop for new employees, she continued. “How are you telling our story about the purpose of the company and how does it engage that employee from day one? That’s an area that has exploded.”

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are another way to reach employees about sustainability efforts, said Norman. Salesforce has an environmental ERG that has “helped create scale around our net zero and emissions reductions goals.” The groups have also been instrumental in the diversity and inclusion areas, she added, which is the most common way that HR interacts with ESG goals. But other areas also impact culture, which in turn impacts hiring and retention.

Austin said he interacts with HR regularly reporting and collecting data, as well as brainstorming on new ways to engage the workforce. “Both departments have an interest in creating the culture and making the employee experience great. It’s a natural overlap.”

During the pandemic, Lincoln Financial was getting questions from external stakeholders on metrics for human capital development, said Emling. “What is HR doing for the development and welfare of employees? The external market was saying our key performance indicators weren’t good enough, and they wanted to know how we did versus Prudential or MetLife. It was an interesting conversation for us in the ESG space to talk that over. We are doing some great programs, but we weren’t necessarily reporting it.”

Putting Intentions into Practice

For companies seeking to implement or expand sustainability efforts, the panel members offered advice. Austin said materiality assessments are the best practice for any company. “You really understand what are the most material issues facing your business in terms of ESG. For us, in the pharmaceutical industry, it is access to medicines and health, so that is a top priority.”

Those issues of import can be broken down further. For Organon, Austin said Covid-19 highlighted issues of access to vaccines, affordability, and health equity. “Who does or does not have access to our products? Is that because of geography, socio-economic status, the built environment in which they live? We don’t have all the answers to those questions, but we believe that communities and stakeholders are sometimes the best source of those solutions. So we partner with nonprofits, with government, with academic institutions to think about how can we better deliver health for women around the world.”

Salesforce does a “materiality refresh” every couple of years to ensure stakeholders have a chance to check in, said Norman. “We reach out to customers and suppliers and investors and employees because what an activist NGO might think is most material to your business may not match up with employees’ perspective or your customers’ perspective.

Austin said a diversity of views is important to determine where there is divergence between what those stakeholders think is material. “What activists think you should be taking a stance on or prioritizing might be vastly different from what your board thinks. And the truth is somewhere in the middle,” he said.

Lincoln Financial has tagged 16 key words and departments–among them environment, facilities, procurement, diversity, inclusion, ethics–on its materiality matrix, said Emling. “What you see on materiality matrices is high risk and high impact of those words or issues, but also low impact and low risk. It’s a good snapshot of your materiality assessment.”

Finding Advice and Useful Comparisons

Companies can find a lot of help in creating those assessments and goals, said the Red Cross’s Anderson. He mentioned the Global Reporting Initiative, which has a set of standards that helped his organization get started on building out materiality topics and creating a road map for future goals.

AT&T likes to compare itself to other companies to determine best practices, which is another lens through which you can set goals, said Anderson. Most of the panel speakers acknowledged they have used outside help at one time or another, whether it be a consultant, a trade organization, or a business sustainability organization. “CSR and sustainability is often the beg, borrow, and steal team,” she said.

“It’s not just about consultants, but also partnering,” Anderson of the Red Cross replied. “People are willing to help out because we’e all on the same page in what we’re trying to achieve.”

For global companies, it’s important to remember that ESG can look very different from one country or region to the next. What it looks like in China is very different from what it looks like in Europe. “We are tracking regulation in Europe that is coming online quite fast, versus here in the U.S., where it can vary by state,” said Austin.

Government regulation does drive some ESG and sustainability activities, Emling noted. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners is one driver for Lincoln, as well as state regulators. Ratings and rankings of companies, often by investor organizations, is another driver, along with employees and clients.

Yet investors may have the most leverage of all, said Emling. “They see that companies that outperform on ESGs outperform in other areas. A company that manages these issues, measures them, and makes the information transparent has a real advantage in how they calculate the value of a company. For me, ESG disclosure has become a huge piece of our job.”

How They’re Keeping Track and Telling the Story

The collection of data, its collation, and reporting on ESG issues may sit in one department or be scattered across many. At Organon, Austin said ESG “describes everything that our company does, so we are constantly pulling data from various functions around the world. We are responsible for putting it all together in a cohesive picture, which is a challenge.”

Both Emling and AT&T’s Anderson said they put out information on ESG through internal newsletters. This may include links to media commentary or analyses that are important to the business case for sustainability. Austin said putting such information into stakeholder inboxes reinforces that it is part of an organization’s culture and keeps it top of mind. “I think 10 years ago, all of us ESG and CSR and sustainability professionals had to bang on doors to get people’s attention,” he said. “Now it’s both push and pull. People want to know more, they want to go above and beyond to contribute to our ESG goals.”

Because of the pull aspect, it’s important to spell out opportunities where employees or investors or clients can help to push the goals along faster, he said. “I think both formal and informal communication and activities is how you make it sticky and baked into the culture.”

A lot of people still think of CSR as philanthropy or volunteering in the community or giving during the annual pledge campaign, said AT&T’s Anderson. “These are all critical pieces to making this work go. But we want to show how what you are doing every day is helping us meet our goals.” For AT&T, it may be highlighting the impact of laying fiber to learning centers that bring high-speed internet to communities where it’s not accessible to everyone. Stories like that emphasize to employees that their everyday work matters to efforts at equity. “It helps it become less of this ‘other’ thing and more the purpose of our business.”

ESG is a lagging indicator of what is happening now, concluded Austin. “Folks look at the SASB or GRI standards, but they came out of a lot of consultation with the activist community that pushes issues. ESG isn’t the starting out point, and it’s not the end point.”

“What we are doing now is trying to measure and monitor impact,” said Emling. “How do we do that and how do we know those measurements are right? How do we move them along? That process of accountability and transparency can translate to the wider world.”

Lisa Jaffe is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle with her son and a very needy rescue dog named Ellie Bee. She enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, and trying to get better at ceramics.



How to Build Skills to Boost Retention on Multigenerational Teams

“With the population aging, one of the concerns we hear from employers is that they’re worried about a good portion of their workforce leaving,” said Heather Tinsley-Fix, a senior advisor for financial resilience at AARP. “Because when they leave, they’ll take this huge reservoir of institutional knowledge, professional networks, and wisdom with them.”How to keep this lucrative knowledge inside an organization and pass it across generations, was the central topic of conversation during a From Day One webinar about building skills to boost retention on multigenerational teams, moderated by Tinsley-Fix.Among the strategies that panelists shared for moving the knowledge and expertise from older generations to younger ones, mentorship was the most popular.“We have a lot of people who have worked on mainframe technologies for 35 or 40 years,” said Shashank Bhushan, chief talent development architect at IT services company BMC Software. “The knowledge that they have is not easily transferable.”BMC Software matches senior team members with younger ones, even sending the older ones abroad for concentrated mentorship time with their colleagues around the world. As a perk, mentors can take a partner or spouse with them, making a vacation out of the deal. But Bhushan noted that you don’t necessarily have to incentivize mentorship all the time. “People take a lot of pride in being able to transfer and transition their knowledge out to younger people and to mentor them,” he said.At Ball Corp., the world’s largest maker of food and beverage cans, long-tenured employees on the manufacturing floor often transition away from overnight shifts and onto special projects that let them train more junior workers on their institutional expertise. “That works better for them,” said Ball’s director of HR business partners Danae Atkins. “It’s more of a stable 9-to-5, or a consulting basis, but it gets them out of the shift work, it gives them that fulfillment, and it also helps us leverage their knowledge.”At corporate real estate firm JLL, Giselle Battley, the global head of early career talent, facilitates knowledge transfer in both directions. The company lets workers at any level opt in to be mentors. “I might go find someone who’s earlier in their career but has a specialty in a space that I want to learn about,” she said.Mentorship and sharing knowledge across generations is all well and good, but panelists agreed that the challenge for most is finding the time to teach, and learn, something new. “Time is a precious commodity, even sometimes more than monetary resources,” said Atkins. “To carve out the time and the space, sometimes we’re able to get creative about this, like pulling all executives into a cohort program, or when we have some downtime in our plants, using that for training time.” You can encourage people to make time by building it into general performance expectations, she said. “If it’s important to your boss, it’s important to you. That’s often what motivates people to be able to carve out that time.”The full panel of speakers from top left, Shashank Bhushan of BMC Software, Heather Tinsley-Fix of AARP, Danae Atkins of Ball Corporation, and Giselle Battley of JLL (photo by From Day One)When time is a luxury, appeal to a worker’s sense of the future, Atkins said. “That point-of-need use has been very helpful for us. If you can show someone how this new skill will help them right now or how it will help them get to the next role, they’re more likely to jump in.”Battley said young workers are eager in this way, and employers can leverage mentorship from older workers in their retention strategy. “Their intent to stay with an organization is really dependent upon our ability to continue to grow them, develop them, and move them into new positions,” said Battley.Employers can’t expect workers to sign up for just any kind of skill development. “If you go into a room and ask people, ‘Do you want to grow?’ All hands will go up. But when it comes down to actual learning, the numbers drop dramatically, and it’s for a variety of reasons,” Bhushan noted. The first, he said, is time. The second is relevance.Younger workers with a career ahead of them are more incentivized to learn, but the knowledge has to fit into career growth, not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake. “There is an assumption that they have more time,” said Battley. That may be the case, “but they don’t want to use that time for this.”Employees have to know that their new skills will be put to good use, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be tomorrow. “That’s part of the wisdom for getting people to engage in the training: It’s good for me here and it grows me here, but I also know that my company is investing in my future, no matter where I choose to make that future.”Editor’s note: AARP, who sponsored this webinar, has partnered with MindEdge Learning to create a skills-building platform for employers to upskill their employees regardless of age. The course catalog includes a range of high-demand skills as well as durable soft skills to enhance productivity and contribute to the growth of your workforce and company. If you’re interested in signing up or just hearing more about these courses, add your name to the Google form here.Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz at Work, Fast Company, Digiday’s Worklife, and Food Technology, among others.(Featured photo by Vanessa Nunes/iStock by Getty Images) 

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | May 30, 2023

Empowering Your People to Be Better Health Care Consumers

Offering your employees a health care benefit isn’t where the work ends—it’s where the work begins. When your team is healthy, they’re able to show up more powerfully both at work and for themselves.“What we've learned over time is that your healthy employees actually are happier,” said Patty Starr, president and CEO of Health Action Council, a coalition of employers that works to secure more affordable and effective health care for employees. “And they're actually more productive. They're more able to deliver not only on their personal goals, but also their professional goals and the organization.””What we see as well is that often there's a big disconnect between what employers think and what their employees and family members think,” Dr. Mike Sokol and senior vice president for clinical strategy at Quantum Health, a health care navigation company for employers. Sokol pointed to an internal Quantum survey in which 88% HR professionals said their employees knew how to navigate their health care system, but only 35% of employees agreed.“All of us can get into those times where we're extremely busy, there's a lot going on,” added Miycol Jones, senior director of employee experience and growth at Quantum Health. “It happens with our employees, and it happens with the HR professionals as well. Employers need to be really intentional about making the time to help provide those resources, because everybody's stretched.”These leaders weighed in on how stakeholders can help their employees become more cost-effective health care consumers in From Day One’s webinar panel discussion titled “Empowering Employees to Be Better Health Care Consumers,” moderated by journalist Anna Maltby.Employees Are Hungry for Health Care SolutionsYour workers not only want access to health care; they also want simple, straightforward instructions on how to utilize that health care effectively.“You can provide your employees with a go-to resource for all things health care,” said Jones. “But honestly, a lot of times people just want to [be able to] call someone. They want to get a really quick answer. A navigation partner like Quantum can provide a single point of contact for members and providers.”The speakers from top left, Patty Starr, Miycol Jones, moderator Anna Maltby, and Dr. Mike Sokol (photo by From Day One)Starr agreed. “As employers, we sometimes forget the human side of things, and what's happening in somebody's life on a day-to-day basis that we might actually not know,” she said. “So there might be a whole bunch of chaos, things pulling them like Gumby in a whole bunch of different directions, but all we see is what’s happening in front of us on a day-to-day basis. There's sometimes a disconnect between what our employees need and want at that moment.”When it comes to human resources leadership, part of being effective means knowing about the latest trends and changes in health care that can add value for your organization’s employees.“We're seeing a number of interesting trends,” Sokol said. “One that we're seeing quite a bit now is an explosion of these “point solutions.” We have a number of vendors out there now that are focusing on one specific area, like diabetes reversal, weight loss, musculoskeletal conditions, or fertility management. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of these companies popping up all over the place. And what we're finding is that a number of large and medium and even small self-insured employers are starting to contract with the solutions, but in some cases, they may have multiple solutions in place.”Sokol added that these layers of complexity are causing some companies to engage with marketplace navigation providers, who can track all the changes and ensure multiple plans aren’t contracted inadvertently.Help Workers Improve Health Literacy, EquitablyDon’t underestimate the level of support your employees may need to grasp fundamental health insurance terms, added Sokol.“Do they really understand the basic concepts of health insurance and the health care system?” he said. “If they don't, how can we really expect that they can take care of themselves? [health literacy] really is a very important topic.” Sokol cited one industry study in which only 4% of workers could correctly define the terms copay, coinsurance, deductible, and out-of-pocket maximum.When it comes to health insurance, don’t be afraid to repeat your message often in order to help workers get comfortable with the benefits they earn and deserve each month.“I definitely encourage teaching it all year long, all the time,” Starr said. “The number of people who don't know the basics today is overwhelming. Just keep on repeating it.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Quantum Health, for sponsoring this webinar.Nick Wolny is an editor, journalist, and consultant. Currently a senior editor at CNET, he has previously written for Fast Company, Fortune, Business Insider, and OUT Magazine, and is a frequent television commentator on technology and work life. He is based in Los Angeles.

Nick Wolny | May 15, 2023

What Women Want: A Future for Women’s and Family Health

Gender balance has been an issue in the workforce, well, forever. But more and more companies are pushing harder to move the dial. One way of ensuring that women apply for, are hired by, and remain with an organization is to focus your benefits package more on their needs – especially when it comes to health.“Because of Covid and other factors, women are exiting the workforce in greater numbers than men,” said Christine Geissler, head of HR for the global nutrition business at Reckitt, the makers of Enfamil infant formula, among other products. “To stop that loss we need to figure out how to better support women and families in the workplace.” That’s about more than just keeping the women you have happy in their jobs, said Mamta Elias, the vice president of strategy at Ovia Health, a women’s health and parenting benefit company. “The business case for a diverse workforce is clear, and we know benefits are an important piece of that equation,” said Mamta during a From Day One webinar on women's and family health benefits.What Are Family-friendly Benefits?Ovia recently surveyed working parents and employees of childbearing age about their existing benefits and where they could improve. Among the results:• Nearly 80% of respondents said they would gladly leave their current role for a lateral move to a company with better benefits. • More than 96% of respondents consider family-friendly benefits to be important. • 55% of respondents didn't consider their employer to be family-friendly.  • Most employers offer at least around three months of parental leave, which is at least partially paid.  • 44% of respondents said their leave was paid at 100%. • Only 22% of respondents said their benefits were easy to understand. • 63% didn't even know if they had family-friendly benefits like parental leave, adoption support, surrogacy benefits, or maternity support. • Respondents wanted digital tools for maternity support, perinatal mental health support, and pumping-friendly work environments.  • They also wanted financial support for childcare, as well as for caring for elderly or sick relatives. • They wanted support for all paths to parenthood, including surrogacy, adoption, and fertility assistance.Elias says the survey also asked which benefits matter the most. Flexibility was at the top of the list. Respondents also wanted fully paid parental leave of at least four months so that they wouldn’t have to drain their PTO and sick leave before tapping into parental leave. They wanted flexible scheduling, remote options, and gradual return-to-work options. And the desire for flexibility goes beyond postpartum: “People need flexibility, no matter what phase of their life or family building or family supporting they’re in,” Elias said.The full panel of speakers from top left, Christine Geissler of Reckitt, Hannah Wilkowski of BuzzFeed, Mamta Elias of Ovia Health, moderator Anna Maltby, and Dr. Jaime Knopman of CCRM (photo by From Day One)“There is a large spectrum of generations currently in or entering the workforce,” said Hannah Wilkowski, global director of benefits for BuzzFeed. Some younger people aren’t ready to start a family. But they may want to know more about contraception. Maybe they're new to a city and want to find a new OB/GYN. Being able to offer fertility benefits like IVF or egg freezing for those who are just starting their parenting journey can be as important as providing resources for those who are pregnant or have a young baby. There also needs to be attention to people entering menopause. “We want our employees to feel seen and heard,” she said. “Different people need different things. Providing the resources necessary makes their lives easier, and makes BuzzFeed a much better place to work for everyone.”Finding Solutions that WorksJamie Knopman, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist with CCRM, said there has been a huge shift in what employers cover. “Embryo and egg freezing used to be available only to couples and women when they were older, and only if they had the financial resources to do it,” she said. “I didn’t have $10,000 to freeze my eggs when I was 28, but I probably did when I was 40. But my eggs weren’t good by then. I could freeze all I want and they probably won’t make a baby.”Now, more companies help women take advantage of technology when they are younger. Then, when they are ready, those eggs are available if needed. The pandemic also exacerbated the push towards freezing eggs and embryos, in part because, as people sat at home alone or with their partner, they started to think more about what they wanted from life. “Women came in droves to freeze their eggs or to make embryos with donor sperm,” Knopman said. Sperm banks were tapped out for a while owing to the demand.Offering egg and embryo freezing provides options for families, Knopman said. While they may not be sure at 28 if they want to be a parent or carry a pregnancy, they won’t have to face fertility decline in their late 30s. They just need to open the freezer, pull out their 28-year-old eggs, and make a baby.Solutions can cost a lot of money, but Wilkowski said you can make a difference by looking at redundancies in the benefits you offer. Is something offered in two different places or with two different vendors? Are you paying for benefits that no one is using? Know what they use, what they like, and what they wish they had. What are the problems they are experiencing that keep them from being their best, most productive and engaged self at work? “When we understand the problems and perceived gaps, we can go find a solution,” she said. Geissler suggested that companies regularly evaluate what they spend and ensure that it aligns with the company’s vision and goals. Who do you want to attract and keep? Are you fixing a gender imbalance? Are you a company whose ethos and products have an obvious alignment with specific kinds of benefits? Since Reckitt is in the formula business, women’s, mothers’, and infants’ health had better be included in their offerings. “We over-index in supporting women and families. We support environments where healthy babies and families can thrive.” Reckitt offers 26 weeks paid parental leave, something that is vanishingly rare in the United States. “But we should over-index in that area because the importance of babies and families is our message.”Elias says that having an organization where women’s and family benefits are respected and utilized, and where everyone sees the value and importance of those benefits, requires having an open and supportive work culture. “Everyone understands the ways in which women's and family health can impact people's personal and professional lives. We need to highlight why this should matter to all of us in an organization.”Lisa Jaffe is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle with her son and a very needy rescue dog named Ellie Bee. She enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, and trying to get better at ceramics.

Lisa Jaffe | May 08, 2023