April 21, 2015 Corporate CEOs – Acknowledged to be the Face of the Brand — What Face Do Sustainability Leadership Companies Present?

Corporate CEOs are considered by many to be the face and cultural symbol of the public company — whether they choose to be, or not. CEOs have become the Chief Reputation Officers.  Part of the credit can go to Jack Welch when he was the young, dynamic, fast-charging head of giant General Electric Company.  Years after he stepped down Mr. Welch is still giving CEOs advice, though his advice rarely touches on sustainability topics (to the contrary, Jack Welch dismissed the threat of global warming).

And credit also goes to Lee Iacocca four decades ago when he revived the fortunes of Chrysler Corporation, the laggard of America’s then Big Three auto makers.  His autobiography and other “leadership” books he authored helped to position both the veteran carmaker himself and his “rescued company.”  Mr. Iacocca helped to position CEOs are “rescuers” of companies in trouble and elevated the prominence of the office.

So today – who is the face of a large public company that is an acknowledged leader and pacesetter in sustainability, responsibility, ethics, contributions to the common good…the serious concerns of shareholders and stakeholders…and more?  Take a look at Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever – as The Guardian newspaper comments: “…he is everywhere.”  What does that mean?

As Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah (Secretary-General of the activist group Civicus) describes it in a commentary:  “…he’s been criticizing fellow business leaders for putting profit ahead of fighting poverty and climate change, blogging on the urgent need to create a low-carbon economy, championing market-based approaches to ending poverty and calling for gender parity in development.” Is this the model for the 21st Century CEO?

This might be considered to be “so-un-CEO-like” if you look skeptically at Polman’s MNE peer group in general. Yes, there are global company CEOs who address important societal issues in a courageous and forward-thinking way.  But when we consider the immense size, reach and influence of Unilever, we could consider the actions and comments of CEO Polman to be the pacesetter for important stakeholders:  his company’s peers; his workforce; investors; the public sector; NGOs…

In the commentary we see other companies in the spotlight for beneficial social program actions:  Santander, IBM, Telefonica, Nike, Mastercard, World Bank (who the author feels all have educational initiatives worthy of positive recognition).  And the head of Civicus calls out companies that are seen as laggards – Google, Amazon, Starbucks (because of their “tax evasion” policies which work against the common good).

Key takeaways:  Unilever and CEO Paul Polman are showing the way; some other global companies are addressing some societal issues in a positive way; others are hurting society with policies such as evading taxes; there is a new spirit of dialogue and partnership between companies and NGOs; true corporate engagement involves risk; at the same time, NGOs have to be careful to protect their own methods and motives.

We invite you to read the story (see link below) and think it through:  What do you think of Paul Polman’s outspoken approach…positions on issues…should some of his CEO peers take the risk and follow suit on these and other business-society issues?  Is he on target with the issues of most concern – the material issues – to his important stakeholders?  Is he too much of a risk taker?

Corporations Are Doing More About Sustainability – But We Must Remember They Have Their Own Agenda 
(Friday – April 17, 2015) Source: The Guardian - Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, is everywhere. In the last few weeks alone, he’s been criticizing fellow business leaders for putting profit ahead of fighting poverty and climate change, blogging on the urgent need to create a…

Lawyers and Sustainability Disclosure / Reporting Helpful Advice & Guidelines to Win Your Case

Lawyers by education, training and through experience tend to be cautious professionals, generally favoring in corporate disclosure & reporting (for example) caution over passionor over-enthusiasm.  What if you could combine the tough and thorough approach and discipline of law professionals in the firm with the passion of the company’s sustainability efforts and reporting on same?

Rob Langert, former VP-Sustainability at McDonald’s, explores the role of legal counsel in sustainability matters.  Three lawyers who are leaders in sustainability matters are interviewed and very helpful advice and guidelines result.

  • Kim Marotta, Director-Sustainability at MillerCoors, suggests The Marotta Model:  Cooperate – Collaborate – Cohesion.
  • John Page, sustainability lead at Golden State Foods presents The Page Pyramid:  Risk: Minimize Not Avoid – Passion – SME on Strategic Goals.
  • Bill Frerking, sustainability lead at Georgia Pacific presents The Frerking Framework:  Risk Mitigation – Advantage – Righteousness.

We find this commentary to be very helpful for our work with corporate counsel at client companies – clip this and save for your own discussions with the internal law team or outside counsel when you are preparing a corporate sustainability report. As author Rob Langert says in the Story:  “Yes, legal teams are tough, thorough and omni-present.  We need them and their discipline in the sustainability field.  It’s a sign that sustainability has arrived when the lawyers care so much!”

Are lawyers the enemy of sustainability execs?
(Monday – April 06, 2015)
Source: GreenBiz - “All they say is no,” said Dr. Temple Grandin about lawyers. Dr. Grandin is a preeminent animal welfare scientist. At a recent presentation, she proclaimed she wished she could throw all the lawyers out of the room. She explained…

GRI Releases New Linkage Document for G4 / CDP WATER

By Louis Coppola @ G&A – Part of the Sustainability Big Data Series

GRI has just released the latest of its “linkage documents”.

This one is the first to link the CDP Water questions to the GRI G4 indicators.

The goal of these linkage documents is to reduce “survey fatigue” and to allow companies to translate their disclosures between multiple important third party disclosure standards and data requests.  Linking these disclosures through a comprehensive reporting index can also add value for the readers of reports which can look at data through the lens of their choice and quickly identify the most important and relevant information.

Both organizations continue to cooperate on aligning best practice, thus avoiding duplication of disclosure efforts, and easing the reporting burden for the thousands of companies that use CDP’s water program and GRI’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. This alignment allows organizations to use the same data points in both reporting channels. The information provided through either channel can form part of a sustainability report using the GRI Guidelines and/or to answer parts of CDP’s questionnaires.

“Driven by our ongoing commitment to advance a common approach to water disclosure and streamline global reporting, we worked together with CDP to create this linkage guidance”, says Bastian Buck, Director Reporting Standard at GRI. “Thousands of reporting organizations will derive benefit from it, ultimately ensuring corporate reporting is indeed more efficient, effective, and valuable to a wide array of information users around the world.”

“Water is becoming a strategic concern for many businesses and consequently we are seeing an increase in corporate water disclosure”, says Pedro Faria, Technical Director at CDP. “The alignment between GRI and CDP on water linkages will facilitate more efficient corporate reporting. It will also improve the consistency and comparability of data, enabling multiple stakeholders to better understand how business

Linking GRI and CDP: Water (2015) can be downloaded for free in the GRI Resource Library

Linking GRI and CDP: Climate Change (2015) can also be downloaded for free here.