By Melissa J. Anderson

On Monday, the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future hosted a luncheon at Pfizer’s corporate offices in New York. The event was titled “The Engaged Consumer: Business Challenge & Responsibility,” but it quickly became clear that the panelists considered corporate responsibility an avenue for engaging a much broader audience including other stakeholders like employees, investors, shareholders, and government officials as well.

Moderated by MJ Jolda, Senior Vice President at Marcal, the panel included Katie Cleary, Manager, Consumer & Customer Insights, Campbell Soup Co.; Anne Hosken, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs & Sustainability, PSEG; Margaret Kohn, Director, Global Corporate Responsibility, Merck; and Val Smith, Vice President, Corporate Sustainability, Citigroup.

Diverse CR Strategies

Jolda began the talk by explaining that sustainability incorporates many different factors. She explained, “Sustainability means different things to different industries – and even to the companies which compete within them.”

She continued, “Green isn’t where sustainability begins and ends.” It also encompasses social and financial sustainability as well.

According to Hosken, PSEG, an energy company, is undertaking an elevation of the importance of sustainability in general. She said, “We’re beginning to enter the renewable space.” But even though PSEG is one of the largest produces of solar energy, “It’s still a smaller percentage of our portfolio.” The company is also looking in to wind energy, she said.

On the other hand, on the pharmaceuticals side, Kohn said, “Sustainability has taken on increasing significance, particularly for our investors.” And that sustainability isn’t just about the environment. She explained that at Merck, sustainability is “interchangeable” with corporate responsibility. “How we define it is about creating a sustainable business model.” She added that that includes considerations of return on investment and social value.

Additionally, she said, sustainability has taken on a burgeoning importance for recruitment. “We spend a lot of time recruiting on university campuses… and it’s the number one or number two topic they want to hear about.”

Cleary said that at Campbell’s, sustainability directives involved cutting the company’s environmental footprint, helping consumers make healthy choices, making an impact in the communities Campbell’s plants are located (specifically around hunger and childhood obesity), and working toward 100% employee engagement.

At Citigroup, Smith said, corporate responsibility encompasses environmental and a human rights issues. In addition to the company’s operational footprint, Smith pointed to sustainability concerns regarding environmental and social risk, as well as environmental opportunity.

“In the past three years,” she said, “Citigroup has addressed sustainability issues that don’t have anything to do with environmental issues. We’ve addressed what it means to be a bank.”

In order to get the company thinking about what it means to be a sustainable business, Citigroup’s CEO Vikram Pandit has developed a three question test that all employees are supposed to ask themselves with each deal. “What is the economic value of this transaction?”, “What is its value to clients?”, and “What is the value to society?”

Measuring Corporate Responsibility Progress

Sustainability reports are not legally binding, said Jorba. How do companies work to ensure their goals are being enforced?

Kohn said, “At Merck, we started presenting our progress to the Board.” She said wryly that when something is going to the board, people tend to pay attention. She also mentioned that public transparency has been a means for enforcement of goals.

Hosken said participating in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index has allowed PSEG a means for comparison with other energy companies and corporations, as well a to track the company’s own progress.

Sustainability is moving beyond the public affairs and environmental, health and safety unit, she explained, “and into the business unit.”

According to Cleary, sustainability is a performance metric that all Campbell employees are reviewed upon each year. “It reminds us on a yearly basis that this is everyone’s responsibility.”

Smith said that Citi has been producing a citizenship report for 11 years, and works hard to tailor it to the audience. “We agonize about who actually reads it,” she joked. “It’s subject matter experts, SRI, people in the field benchmarking, sustainability experts…”

Reporting does serve another purpose she said. “It has an internal impact in getting the business engaged because they have to report something!”