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 Improve the Recruiting Process for Technical Talent

“There’s a record number of candidates applying for roles. I think it takes a good, solid recruiting strategy to ensure inclusivity practices are followed,” said Cody Ledbetter, senior technical recruiter at O’Reilly Auto Parts, during a From Day One panel discussion on how to build an exceptional recruitment process.According to Amanda Richardson, CEO at technical interview platform CoderPad, this increase in application volume is forcing recruiters to make changes. She observes companies abandoning loosely planned, informal interviews for more conscientious decision-making. “It’s nice to see companies being a little more organized, disciplined, and clear in their hiring processes,” she said.Richardson is encouraged by candidate assessments designed to evaluate the skills most relevant to the job–rather than arbitrary pop quizzes, for instance–and happy with the return of the live interview checking both hard and soft skills.It is the confluence of mutually beneficial tech tools and human understanding, said panelists, that is changing the way employers are able to recruit and vet incoming tech talent.Using the Latest in HR Tech to Improve the Hiring ProcessArtificial intelligence has talent acquisition professionals excited for its possibilities and likewise trepidation about its power. And whether they’re prepared or not, AI has arrived in HR technology. So, what are the implications for the hiring process?The panelists spoke to the topic "Hiring Tech Developers: Building a Nearly Perfect Recruitment Process" (photo by From Day One)“I do think that [AI] will make the recruitment process significantly more efficient, in terms of elimination of manual tasks,” said Phil Yob, senior director of talent acquisition at insurance tech company Applied Systems. “I don’t think that at this point it’s solving for the personal interaction you get from working with TA or HR in the interview process. Despite all the good work they can do from automated messaging, face-to-face interaction and the human touch element are big pieces.”Further, panelists urged recruiting teams to be vigilant about the quality of the AI tools they’re using. Ultimately, the TA teams and hiring managers who use them will be responsible for whatever decisions are made. “It’s our job to understand what it’s doing and what it’s weeding out,” said Julia Stone, head of recruiting for eCommerce infrastructure services at Amazon.Assessing Great CandidatesFaced with mountains of applications, recruiters are figuring out the most efficient, effective, and scalable ways of evaluating the qualifications of those candidates. Ledbetter’s rule of thumb is that “the recruitment process should be commensurate with the level of technicality for the role.” Don’t exhaust candidates with overly complex or back-to-back assessments. By avoiding burdensome technical assessments–and limiting questions only to those most relevant to the role–employers can build trusting relationships with top developers.Given the tech industry’s reputation for being less than diverse, Richardson said she’s encouraged by new skills-based hiring practices. “I can assure you that [tech] is still lacking in diversity, but I credit people teams with doing everything they can to really fight against it. I do think the opportunities are around finding a way to assess candidates that’s different from just looking for logos or keywords.”Regarding the legitimacy and consistency of recommendations made by interviewers themselves, the panelists encouraged rigorous preparation. “It’s very important to establish what each person is assessing for,” Amazon’s Stone explained. “By putting more rigor in that structure before you’re going in, you can avoid some of that groupthink.”There may be room for more equity in the hiring process when it comes to hiring candidates from within or without the organization. Yob noted that Applied Systems makes a point of operating consistently, whether the candidate is internal or external. “We’ll give a little credence to their having been a part of the culture, but I think the best thing we can do is to motivate internally by treating them the same and continue to move them through that process to make sure we’re getting the best possible person.”Skills matter, but so does the mode of working. Employers that have called their workers back to the office are returning to the in-person interviews, the panelists said, but that won’t be necessary for everyone. The best way to evaluate a candidate is the context in which they’ll be working. “Some companies give a Slack interview–or on Teams, whatever your product is,” said Richardson. “If you can’t communicate effectively on that channel, you probably aren’t going to be successful in a remote world.” The interview format matters, she said. “Are they going to be proficient not only in the skills but in the environment, too?”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, CoderPad, for sponsoring this webinar.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 Economist, the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | June 13, 2024

Developing Crucial Competencies Among Managers to Enhance Inclusion

To improve workplaces, leaders need to reevaluate how they are growing their managers and provide the proper support. In a From Day One webinar, Lydia Dishman, senior editor of growth and engagement at Fast Company, spoke with leaders about the strategies they’re taking to address skills gaps in their companies, especially those related to boosting workplace inclusion.Self-aware leaders display a higher level of confidence and empathy, resulting in stronger teams and effective leadership. Yet despite most leaders believing that they exhibit self-awareness, research shows only 10-15% of leaders are self-aware.The disparity comes from the challenge of displaying vulnerability, Khalil Smith, vice president of inclusion, diversity, and engagement at Akamai Technologies, says.“​​We need to be given at least an opportunity to have some of that autonomy to say, “I think that I can be better here or here,” Smith said. “It’s not a bad thing to say, ‘I do struggle with giving difficult feedback and that's not something that’s going to hold me back.’ This is different from being externally assessed because it builds the self-awareness that we need,” Smith said.By showing empathy for others, leaders can cultivate a safe work environment for others to grow, which can be a win-win situation for companies and employees. Singleton Beato, global executive vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at media group, McCann Worldgroup, says empathetic leaders can reap the benefits of a stronger team.Amanda Grow of ETU, Singleton Beato of McCann Worldgroup, Diana Navas-Rosette of Microsoft, and Khalil Smith of Akamai Technologies spoke in a panel moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company (photo by From Day One)“Being self-aware allows one to understand how to present constructive and corrective feedback in a way that isn’t demeaning to someone,” Beato said. “Doing so safely helps employees to feel that they have the support of the manager and helps them to be aware of not only whatever the correction needs to be but also to feel empowered to make that correction.”Leaning on Newer Learning MethodsWhen compared to traditional learning methods, researchers found immersive learning like VR training to yield better results and also positively impact employees’ performance. Amanda Grow, director of customer success at learning company, ETU, says learning simulations can also provide opportunities for employees to learn skills that may be difficult to learn in traditional settings.“One of the key elements in learning simulations is teaching people how to work through situations that they don't feel comfortable in,” Grow said. “Simulations have the ability to bring some of that emotion to life and make you feel uncomfortable or make you feel anxious.”During these simulations, employees dealing with challenging emotions have an opportunity to self-reflect on their emotions in a safe space, Grow says. “We want to teach people how to reflect and understand their internal processes,” Grow said. “That's going to be valuable if we want employees to improve their self-awareness.”Research found employees who have personal development opportunities are more engaged and have higher retention rates, showing how learning can play a large role in how employees perceive their work and growth.Whether it’s through traditional learning modules or providing a safe environment for employees to learn, leaders play an instrumental role in bridging the gaps. Diana Navas-Rosette, general manager of global diversity and inclusion solutions, communities, and activation at Microsoft, says that Microsoft is leaning on newer technology to offer personalized learning opportunities.“Simulations stand out as probably one of the most innovative solutions that we have in our portfolio right now. They are immersive and allow learners to practice the skills realistically and safely,” Navas-Rosette said. “A learner navigates through a simulation and then gets a report at the end that tells them what they did well and where they have areas of opportunities for them to grow. Employees can always come back and practice if they want to, allowing it to be a continuous relationship with a solution for them to build that skill set.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | May 21, 2024

How to Provide Fertility Benefits Without Breaking the Bank

Infertility impacts one in every six couples who are trying to conceive, according to the World Health Organization. “That number is staggering,” said Jenny Carillo, president of Ovia Health, who spoke in a recent From Day One webinar.“We’re seeing the average age of people who are trying to initiate their family building efforts increasing,” she told moderator Lydia Dishman. “People are now trying to conceive in their 30s and 40s, when they’re becoming less fertile.”However, a new report from Ovia Health suggests only 15% of employees have access to fertility benefits. “This benefit is very difficult to justify in terms of return on investment, and the reason why is that it’s crazy expensive,” said Arturo Arteaga, the senior director of total rewards at VCA Animal Hospitals.However, employees now see providing fertility benefits as their employer’s responsibility, says Kim Duck, VP of global benefits at News Corp. “I think it’s ramped up very, very quickly, where it used to be nice to have and now it is expected,” she said.That discussion began in the United States, but Duck said she was surprised how quickly it spread to global employees. “It’s just exploding everywhere,” she said. The Case for Fertility BenefitsOffering fertility benefits can be a difficult decision for employers because it serves only a small group of employees, says Arteaga. “You have to balance providing that benefit for a few or think of something else that can impact more people,” he said.However, 80% of the employees at VCA Animal Hospitals are women, so “it is something we need to do,” Arteaga said.Lydia Dishman of Fast Company moderated the panel on providing fertility benefits without breaking the bank (photo by From Day One)Even if a company offers fertility benefits, employees who use them still need to spend a lot of their own money to access care, says Arteaga. “But just imagine if you didn’t have the company helping you,” he said. “It’s just impossible for the majority of people.”For companies with difficulty recruiting new employees, fertility benefits can be a big advantage, says John Von Arb, VP of total rewards for Essentia Health.“We rely on our benefits as an employer of choice, and things like that encourage and incentivize individuals to come to us or to stay with us as we move forward,” he said.Fertility Benefits and the Continuum of CareHistorically, women’s reproductive health has been viewed as fragmented stages, such as conception, pregnancy, post-partum, and menopause, says Carillo.However, “the reality is this is a continuum of one’s life, and these periods of one’s life are connected to one’s whole health,” she said. “So, if we think about it from a whole health perspective, we’d like to anchor to the thought of prevention. And when you think about prevention, you’re able to really think about what preconception care looks like.”Carillo said helping employees be in a healthier place so they can conceive naturally is cost-effective compared to assisting them with fertility treatment costs.Providing benefits for young families doesn’t end after conception, says Duck. Some News Corps business units offer 20 weeks of parental leave that is gender agnostic.Essentia Health offers childcare support for mothers returning to work. Von Arb said this support is not just for day-shift employees, but also for those on the evening and overnight shifts. “All of those go with the broader context of family benefits,” he said.Talking to Employees About Fertility BenefitsInclusive language and inclusive perspectives are critical when talking to employees about fertility benefits, says Carillo. It’s important to be inclusive to men and the LBGTQ+ population seeking these treatments.Sometimes the male half of a heterosexual couple is only tested for infertility after healthcare providers have exhausted all the options for the woman in the relationship, says Arteaga. “I think that’s a cultural shift we have to change,” he said.Fortunately, younger generations are more open than older ones when it comes to discussing infertility, according to Von Arb. “Nothing is off the table,” he said. “I do think that it becomes a little easier for us to address some of these issues as we move forward, and frankly to communicate them a little more effectively, as there’s not a taboo around them.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Ovia Health, for sponsoring this webinar.Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa. 

Mary Pieper | May 10, 2024