Friday, November 5, 2010

Where are the employees at #BSR10 ?

The biggest annual event on the CSR calendar is in its closing stages as I write. Regretfully, I could not make it this year but have been following an interesting tweet-stream and blog posts that have been appearing throughout the first two days, as well as videos from Fenton SHARE program. One piece of news from the conference is the BSR GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Poll 2010  which summarizes a survey of 377 CSR professionals from BSR member companies, reporting that business leaders remain focused on sustainability, look to demonstrate the benefits of sustainability and believe innovation is the key to success in the future. Interestingly, when asked about the focus of the company's CSR/sustainability efforts over the next 12 months, the highest score in the "very significant issue" category was worker's rights (32%) followed by human rights (31%) , both ranking higher than climate change (27%). Even more interestingly, when asked what the most important action to build trust in business should be, respondents gave a range of replies, with the highest (54%) relating to demonstrating positive social and environmental impacts and the lowest score (7%) saying that they should align lobbying with sustainability goals. Hmm. See the full list below and then I will tell you what I think.

Personally, I think that the most important action to build trust in business is creating and embedding a sustainability culture and practice in the business. I think that when a company can truly confirm that every single employee knows what sustainability is, why it's important, what its company's strategies are, how it affects their specific role and what they need to be doing to align their everyday decisions and actions with the sustainability agenda, then a company will be in a position to regenerate or maintain trust. Measuring impacts, reforming executive compensation or focussing lobbying are of themselves not trust drivers, even though varying percentages of 377 CSR professionals think they are. All of the points on the trust-building list above either require the complete commitment and engagement of the company's total workforce, or are simply a diversion of focus. The way to build trust is first to engender trust within your business, and then leverage that to encourage trust externally. Your business, however, is not its brand. It's its people. People make business, people make brands, people make decisions, people make choices, people make sustainability. I look forward to the day when we will finally see a broadscale realization that the best of strategies can only be delivered with the best of people who are knowledgable about sustainability, motivated to change and committed to sustainable outcomes at every level of any organization.

Which brings me to another point. The #BSR10 Conference  agenda . Very impressive. Emerging markets, energy innovation, emerging economies, feeding the future population of 9 billion in 2050,  financial inclusion, biomimicry, sustainability ratings, integrated reporting, green ICT, company CSR management systems and more. All big issues of the day requiring leadership, partnership and a new order of capitalism. BUT  (you knew there was a BUT coming, didn't you?), where are the employees? Talk of advancing human rights and worker's rights in (third party) supply chains is only a small part of this story. Where is the session that talks about engaging all employees in the business to drive the sustainability agenda? Where is the bold CSR/Human Resources team that presents the way it drives internal engagement ? I looked down the list of around 130 speakers and found only one from the Human Resources function: Cathy Murphy, VP HR of Blue Shield Operations, who was speaking in a session on Health and Wellbeing, which appears to be more about promoting healthier lifestyles in external communities as part of a company's sustainability platform than about internal workforce programmes.

I wonder how many Human Resources executives attend BSR ? I wonder how many feel it's relevant to their role ?  All the BSR member companies surveyed are large organizations with HR functions (I assume), probably fairly weighty ones at that. Probably quite a few VP HR people on the senior exec teams. Were they at the conference ? Are they aware that worker's rights and human rights are the key issues that their leadership sees for driving sustainability ? Do they know what their role is in advancing a culture where these aspects of sustainability can be adequately addressed? And why were they not on the BSR agenda, speaking, sharing, debating, learning?

As far as HR people are concerned, you know my answer: It's time for HR to wake up to CSR!

As far as BSR is concerned, well, perhaps it's time for BSR to wake up to HR!

I look forward to the BSR 2011 conference ensuring this aspect of sustainability gets the positioning on the conference agenda that it deserves.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is one of your greatest posts. You always write valuable posts, but this is a great post.

At the end of last week, your entry in twitter and this post got me think more generically about how do we think about people, and Aman Singh as well.

I gave it quite a bit of thought as i worked on a chapter of my book this weekend on the implications of Jeffrey Hollender's departure from Seventh Generation.

While the book chapter looks at how CSR grew out of a heroic culture, I gave this real thought on the implications of the end of an era of a Heroic Leader at Seventh Generation and what this means to people.

I think CSRforHR may one of the most important venues you can lead into thought right now. I also think that CSRforHr is about thinking through a new style of conversation beyond the challenges and transitions that occur when boards and leaders don't agree.

In this post, I think a bit about this and when I polish off my chapter, I may send it to you for comment.


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