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.



Tech-Powered Ways to Recognize Your Team

When Magdalena Bugallo, director of total rewards experience at VCA, opened an ecard on Boss Appreciation Day this year, she was moved to tears.“There were words of appreciation from my team, and for me that was amazing because I built this team from scratch. We had been getting to know each other for the past year. And it filled my heart and made me cry,” Bugallo told journalist Lydia Dishman, moderator of the recent From Day One webinar titled “How Tech Can Boost Engagement and Recognition.”In this new hybrid and remote work era, using tech to recognize others can be as simple as that. This is good news because employees who think their company will recognize them are 2.7 times more likely to have high engagement at work, according to Zippia.But business leaders also need to know which technologies and practices are motivational and informative versus fatiguing or counterproductive.Recognizing Team Members in the MomentOrganizations are already using communication tools to effectively recognize employees immediately, instead of waiting for their performance review or a big corporate event.Supriya Bahri, vice president of global total rewards at Roblox, says whenever one of her direct reports has a work anniversary, she writes one or two short paragraphs on the team’s Slack channel to acknowledge the event. Those individuals have begun to do the same for their direct reports.“If it’s the first anniversary, it’s a three or four-line story about how we met and how we’re so excited looking at how far we’ve come,” Bahri said. “And if it's the year three anniversary, it’s reflecting back on the year and thanking them for it.”Microsoft Teams has a function that VCA uses to celebrate employees in a team chat or via a private message, says Bugallo.“It has visuals like a unicorn that means, ‘You’re amazing,’” she said. It also allows managers to recognize employees when they display values such as leadership or courage, Bugallo added.Recognition For AllEveryone is different regarding how they like to be recognized, and respecting that difference is critical, says Katrina Hall, director of human resources at VSP Vision.For example, Hall had a team member she wanted to recognize for the extraordinary way she faced adversity. Hall planned to praise her on a company-wide platform, but the employee told her she disliked recognition on the platform and found it disingenuous. She told Hall, “the people who really appreciate me will tell me directly. I don’t want the fanfare.’”On the other hand, “I have other people on my team that need that larger recognition,” Hall said. “You have to lean into your team and ask, ‘How do you want to be recognized? What’s important to you?’ In knowing that, then you hit the mark every time.”Everyone’s Voice MattersOne essential way to recognize employees is to make them feel like their opinions matter, which can be challenging to accomplish in a hybrid workforce, says Bahri.During Covid, everyone worked remotely, so “we were all a box on the screen. It was leveled,” she said.Now some employees are physically present in a room while others are still boxes on the screen. Bahri says some in the latter group weren’t actively participating in meetings, so she told the team leaders to “watch out for the quieter people, and as we are asking for input from the room, if we haven’t heard from employee A and employee B, let’s ask them, ‘Hey, we haven’t heard from you. How do you feel about it?’”Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth & engagement at Fast Company moderated the webinar (photo by From Day One)Barhi also recommended companies take advantage of Zoom’s breakout room feature to allow remote workers to meet in smaller teams “because some people are more comfortable discussing an idea among three people versus 15.”Employee engagement and recognition can be challenging for large corporations with team members across the globe.“We’d like to have a little bit of fun. Who doesn’t?” said Seema Bhansali, vice president of employee experience and inclusion at Henry Schein.That’s why the Henry Schein Games began. Employees were randomly split into two teams: Team Henry and Team Esther, Esther referring to Esther Schein, co-founder of the company. Each team was given the opportunity to engage through competition and surveys on topics such as how they volunteer. The company set up a specific website for the games where employees can check the leaderboard, post pictures, and engage with each other. A few Henry Schein sites even held field days for in-person competition.“It was amazing to see the transformation from some of the most serious people in our organization, just getting into the fun and chatting on teams with one another,” Bhansali said.The company also has various clubs where employees worldwide can bond through shared hobbies such as gardening or gaming.“It’s an appreciation for the team to say, ‘Hey, jobs well done,’” Bhansali said. “You also need to unwind. It’s a focus on wellness and connection in a time when we are a little bit disconnected because of the way that we work.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Achievers, who supported this webinar.Mary Pieper is a freelance reporter based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | December 04, 2023

Using AI to Revolutionize Hiring for Top Talent, While Avoiding the Pitfalls

The influence of AI on our world is profound and ongoing, though its effects may be more understated than the sensational headlines suggest. Instead of the Matrix abound, AI is enhancing the work of human hands by simplifying or eliminating rote tasks, and making it easier for companies and workers to focus on more important tasks.“AI is a job transformer, right? What it is basically doing is automating things, like high volume, repetitive tasks. And it is giving us more time to think and do something that we’re good at like problem solving,” said Ankur Saxena, SVP & head of strategic operations and talent at Mphasis.One of those areas of work where AI is improving processes, and will continue to streamline on both the client and user end, is in hiring and talent acquisition. But there are many pitfalls, namely in how AI carries human biases. During a recent From Day One webinar, Matt Charney, talent acquisition leader at, spoke with professionals in-the-know about AI and how it affects talent acquisition.The Genetics of Bias in AI“There was one very famous article about Amazon creating an AI hiring bot, and it failed miserably because it was trained on data. The data was from all the people who are working in the firm. Being about 70-80% males, they unintentionally created a sexist AI hiring tool. It kept on selecting only people who are males,” said Saxena.The matching of resumes to job descriptions has been a practice for over 20 years, with a historical feedback loop embedded in the machine learning and AI processes, says Dan Finnigan, CEO of Filtered.To overcome bias Saxena says organizations need to look at the data AI is getting trained on, because the people training the AI carry their own inherent biases. Next you have to monitor the output so you can understand the results you’re getting. He likens this to going to the gym and maintaining an exact regimen but never seeing any increases and positive changes in your abilities. You have to change your workout to see different results.The full panel of speakers from top right: Dan Finnigan of Filtered, Ankur Saxena of Mphasis, Alec White of Computershare, Madeline Laurano of Aptitude Research, and moderator Matt Charney of (photo by From Day One)Madeline Laurano co-founder of Aptitude Research turned the discussion to ethical AI and how it should be defined by transparency and specific use. “Ethical AI is pretty much defined by transparency. And are these providers going to be transparent with their algorithm? Or are they going to be transparent with the methodology that they’re using? Are they constantly re-evaluating it?”Focusing on ethics, Charney directed the panel to think about two questions. First, will AI reduce bias going forward, or is automation bias simply replacing hiring bias? And within an organization, who is responsible for making ethical decisions behind AI-driven processes?“I firmly believe that AI and recruiting is by definition biased, and maybe significantly so,” Finnigan said. He says that earlier in his career with Hot Jobs, product people found candidates using unseeable fonts to game the algorithm, and basically create a marketing document for themselves. On the company side, hiring managers would do the same, adding in things to make the job more appealing.“And so it is biased by definition. It's just like the way we read news on social media; it's an echo chamber. So I would argue it's a bias accelerator so that we don't have to take the time to really try to figure out what's in the resume, or for the candidate to really figure out what's in the job description.” Finnigan says that the power of generative AI should be one that double checks bias and includes a process that is better at matching verified job skills, instead of just looking for patterns in applicants it's been trained to favor.AI Is Still in its InfancyUnfortunately, there aren’t a lot of companies out there that use AI very well for the hiring process, according to Laurano. She referenced Amazon's crash and burn with AI recruiting as a cautionary tale that’s still scary to a lot of talent acquisition leaders.Charney turned to Alec White global head of talent acquisition at Computershare, which is in the early stages of that journey. White is working on the applicant tracking system. “We started with some fundamental things like digital interviewing, and self scheduling of interviews. And that, from the very beginning, felt natural. It’s the feedback loop that we’ve talked about.” White says that based on their metrics, their process doesn't “feel off putting to candidates, but like they are interacting with something human.”“They could interview with us at midnight, with a digital interview, and then the system would tell them, ‘Hey, this is what is next’ and respond to questions and send them information that was customized to their role,” White continued. He says by personalizing the application process it doesn’t feel like a black hole with an automated email at the end saying not you.Defining the Perfect AI Recruitment Tool“I completely see it as an enhancer. I see AI as providing tremendous value to TA professionals, whether that’s being a campus recruiter all the way to a TA leader. “There’s lots of value in a lot of these use cases where AI can come in and improve the recruiter experience,” said Laurano.She referenced research her firm did in early 2021 that looked at the recruiter experience. There were 14,000 job openings for recruiters that January, and the research found that they were wasting their time on tasks like managing job boards, manually advertising jobs, scheduling interviews, and more,  instead of connecting candidates with jobs. “AI can provide tremendous value in a lot of these use cases for recruiters. And I think recruiters that better understand and get excited about AI, they can get excited about generative AI."“If you view a human as an algorithm, and you view AI as an algorithm, what do you trust as having less bias? We bring these biases into our organization, and it’s hard to unlearn those. But with AI, you can unlearn things, you can retrain it, and you can reduce bias in a way that you really can’t do with humans," Laurano added.Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Filtered, for sponsoring this webinar.Matthew Koheler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | November 15, 2023

How Innovative Companies Put Advanced HR Technology to Work

What are the most important HR technologies right now? Skills management, learning experience platforms, and internal talent marketplaces, according to a 2023 Gartner survey. Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth and engagement at Fast Company cited these findings in a recent From Day One webinar. HR leaders will have to persuade key stakeholders to adopt the new technology, justify investing in HR tech, and figure out a roadmap for rapid tech transformation, which isn’t easy.“Yet, while nearly half of the HR leaders surveyed said that driving better business outcomes was their top priority, implementing these tech tools needed to bolster the strategic focus hasn’t quite caught up,” Dishman said.Managing Talent“The pandemic was definitely a mode where we saw a dramatic push to get employees in all the countries we operate in,” said Jason Radisson, CEO and co-founder of Movo. “From a tech space, we’ve seen the pendulum swing from talent acquisition technologies to workforce management technologies.” Now he says there’s more focus on using technology to manage the workforce. Like mobile apps, for example, being used to not only gather data on their frontline workers but allow for frictionless interactions.“If you're asking what the future looks like, it’s a mobile application. If we could talk to somebody on Saturday and have them working Monday morning, that’s an ideal world. Or talk to them on Sunday and have them download the app, do the hiring paperwork and get to work. That’s really what we were going for.”Simon Taylor, head of organizational effectiveness at Gap, Inc., honed in on what drives decisions in the management space. “What are the core questions we need to answer? And then what’s the data that’s going to enable us to be able to answer those questions?” Taylor said one of those major sets of questions is around understanding the pain points because that’s where there’s opportunity to come up with solutions.“There’s always a need to continuously focus on what those questions are, revisit them and then modify them over time to ensure that you’re answering different questions as the business model evolves and the market evolves,” said Eyad El Hindi, vice president of HR technology & operations at Catalent Pharma Solutions.Reflecting on lessons learned about frontline workers during the pandemic, Dishman pointed out that “a happy worker makes a happy customer.” Workers who feel supported by their company have better morale, and better worker morale means better customer service. Better customer service can lead to bigger positive feedback loops in terms of revenue.Dishman moderated the panel about “How Innovative Companies Put HR Technology to Work” with panelists Simon Taylor of Gap, Eyad El Hindi of Catalent Pharma Solutions, and Jason Radisson of Movo (photo by From Day One)A big part of that morale boost is how well companies integrate technology to enhance the work life of the employee. “From a skill standpoint, it's really thinking through, what are the skills that we need for these individuals to be able to be successful to provide a positive customer experience to feel comfortable and confident on the floor and engaging with customers and serving them?” Taylor said.El Hindi touched on the fact that as companies adopt AI technology, they will need a “more dynamic workforce” to manage the use of those technologies. “I think the key thing is acquiring talent with that skill. But then how you sustain that overtime is another dimension, right?” El Hindi said.Looking at hiring, Dishman pointed out that the AI technologies the panelists talked about were supposed to eliminate bias in the hiring process, which they don’t always do. “Are there good use cases for incorporating AI tech tools, particularly when it comes to recruiting and retaining workers?” Dishman asked.“You hit the nail on the head in terms of the journey on the TA side with bias and the promise of removing bias” said Taylor. He emphasized that even though many companies are beholden to the technology they use, their using that technology, experimenting with it, and exploring its limits is also an important part of the journey. How you have meaningful insights in hiring quality candidates based on a job profile using AI is really the question companies are trying to answer, says Taylor.“I think what is underpinning that in some respects is the volume of work that happens on the TA side with our field organization, and how can we use that to compliment, not to replace our recruiting team. To be able to help make sure that we’re really putting the net out as wide as we can to be able to attract the right diverse candidates” Taylor added.Stepping Into the Unknown“The most important thing for us to make sure we’re getting right when it comes to change management and driving adoption with these kinds of things, is getting that sponsorship secured upfront. And when I say sponsorship, I mean the leaders that provide that legitimacy and role modeling, and getting them on board first,” Taylor said.El Hindi added that when deploying new technologies you have to have a clear understanding of what’s in it for them. Ensuring that the people who will use the technology “understand the corporate benefit to why it’s being adopted, both from a productivity cost perspective” is key, he said.“You understand that I have an individual personal benefit to what's been deployed. It’ll help me run my organization better. It’ll help me get greater insights into the workforce that I oversee, empower me to do more with technology,” El Hindi said.This isn’t surprising to Radisson who says the heritage of HR is conservative “because it’s focused on compliance,” which usually makes it late to advancements in technology.“So if we all agree on what the future should look like, and then you take that gap with the senior team or with your operating team, you really have to pick it apart and look at that gap and decide what the actions, use cases, and implementation of technology is going to be in order to fill that gap. And then you get people working concretely on things,” said Radisson.Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Movo, for sponsoring this webinar. Matt Koehler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | November 14, 2023