A career in corporate social responsibility or sustainability can be thrilling. It seems nothing ever stays the same. Sure, many of the leaders from ten years ago are still blazing trails. But as more companies adopt sustainability policies, the shifting tides in the field change the skills and knowledge required.
To gain some perspective on the evolving needs of sustainability talent, I sat down with Ellen Weinreb, who runs an executive search firm with a specialty in corporate social responsibility and sustainability. As far as I know, there is no greater expert in sustainability talent recruitment. She has seen the field evolve since starting her career in sustainability in 1996 while in business school at Yale and has gained notable clients like Walmart, Patagonia, Levi Strauss & Co., and Nestle Waters. In addition, I’ve had the honor of seeing her in action as we collaborate on a research project due out later in the year.
In this interview, she describes the needs of sustainability leaders, identifies where the pockets of job growth in the field may be in the future, and dispels a great myth about being a sustainability professional.
Q: You’ve been involved in sustainability for a long time. How have you seen the field change over the years, particularly relating to who’s hiring, at what levels, and what your clients are asking for in their searches?
The good news is that the sustainably field is expanding. The job market ebbs and flows in tandem with the economy. When times are bad and companies are laying off parts of the workforce, the sustainability program can be seen as non-essential business in the eyes of the people making the cuts. Right now, however, things are definitely on the uptick.
I’ve observed a progression of the sustainability position. For example, in 2008/2009 during the downturn, many companies replaced senior level sustainability professionals with more junior professionals at half the salary. The result was that the junior person was doing the work of many staff. In 2010/2011 I saw many heads of sustainability receive the budget to add a deputy to her team.
What I’m seeing now, big companies are Read more…
China’s emergence as an economic force has been both rapid and relatively recent. It was only in 2001 that China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), allowing it access to foreign markets with very low tariffs on Chinese exports. In exchange, China had to lower its own tariffs on imports and follow the terms of trade governed by the WTO and its members.
For foreign businesses operating in China, the past few decades have been challenging when it comes to corporate social responsibility and sustainability. To separate myth from reality, I wanted to get an “on the ground” perspective. So at the annual BSR (Business for Social Responsibility)conference, I spoke with Jeremy Prepscius. Based in Hong Kong he is BSR’s Vice President, Asia-Pacific:
What have U.S. companies learned about CSR in China over the past 10 years? What have they yet to learn?
U.S. companies have learned a lot about dealing with supply chain aspects of CSR in China over the last 10 years. That learning has been both good and a challenge in terms of supply chain engagement.
But what they actually haven’t learned yet, I think, is the value of Read more…
It’s safe to say that when most people think of corporate social responsibility (CSR), they think of environmentally friendly packaging, supply chain issues, or even corporate philanthropy. But finance?
According to Alexandra (Alex) Liftman, Global Environmental Executive forBank of America, finance has an important role to play in advancing CSR and sustainability goals. I sat down with Alex at the Business for Social Responsibility conference in New York City last week to get her perspective on Bank of America’s approach to CSR and sustainability. The conversation comes at an interesting time for the country’s second-biggest lender by assets. Federal prosecutors filed a $1 billion lawsuit last Wednesday, accusing Bank of America of carrying out a scheme started by its Countrywide Financial unit that defrauded government-backed agencies by making loans without proper controls.
How does the news of the government’s lawsuit against Bank of America affect the company’s reputation for socially responsibility?
Well, in any situation, you have to look at the facts. Around these legacy mortgage issues, we have stepped up as an institution and acted responsibly and as quickly as possible to address a broad range of issues. In this particular instance, the claim that we failed to repurchase loans from Fannie [Mae], is just false. At some point, Bank of America can’t continue to be expected to compensate entities for the losses that were the result of the financial crisis. That’s the position we have taken on this particular instance.
I would also say that whether it’s the Read more…
A few days ago, my fellow Forbes.com contributor Paul Klein published an interviewwith Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) President and CEO Aron Cramer. The flagship organization in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) field is celebrating its 20th anniversary at its annual conference in New York. I was fortunate enough to continue the conversation with Aron Cramer. We highlighted some of the insights from the conference and we dug into the history of the field and the direction it should be headed. Here is my conversation with Aron:
How did Business for Social Responsibility start?
BSR got started by a number of strands that were woven together actually. But primarily there were members of the Social Venture Network who had created an organization that was really for individuals and that’s what SVN was and still is today. Some people, with Josh Mailman being one in particular, said wouldn’t it be great for to have an organization for companies in addition to a network of entrepreneurs who are concerned about corporate responsibility? The word “sustainability” wasn’t used much in those days. It was called CSR.
So that’s the short version. The organization was set up as a counterpoint to traditional business lobbying organizations in Washington. So it started with the mission to provide a progressive voice to influence public policy. Simply put, a year or two in, people concluded that that wasn’t really working well so it was re-launched in 1994 as an organization that would provide direct assistance to companies to help them become more sustainable in their own operations.
How have CSR and sustainability changed in the past 20 years?
I think they have gotten more serious. The story over the last 20 years is Read more…
Awhile back I wrote an article titled “The Six Reasons Why Companies Should Embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).” In fact, it was one of my most popular posts, thank you very much all you readers out there.
However, in fancy political science- and economics- speak, that was what they call a “normative analysis” – a perspective based on fact that describes how something should be and not how something actually is. So, for example, we may suppose that politicians during presidential debates should use the national stage they’ve been given to advance the dialogue on important socio-political issues. But do they?
So today I write what is called a “positive analysis” regarding why companies ultimately wind up embracing CSR. So for example, rather than try to have an intellectual discussion about policy, it seems our politicians us their platforms to try to shut the other guy down, hoping for a Lloyd Bensten-esque zinger that will stand the test of time (“…I knew Jack Kennedy… Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”)
After all, not every company embraces CSR because it now understands the opportunities it derives from enlightened self-interest. Here are six possible explanations of why a company could choose to be socially responsible:
Reason #1: It’s just the way it has always been
Some companies have been oriented toward social and environmental responsibility since Read more…
Creating Shared Value (CSV) is a powerful tool and concept for companies to use as they look to conduct business. Ultimately, it’s a strategy for developing the future market while also strengthening economies, the marketplace, communities, and corporate coffers. Yet the term runs the risk of being confused with corporate social responsibility (CSR) or, worse, as being a way to redistribute wealth. To combat this, we are launching a video to illustrate and explain the concept of CSV.
You see, sometimes it seems that the CSR field is engaged in a lifelong game of the 1970s game show classic, Password. In this version, each of us practitioners tries to guess the next iteration of the naming rights of the field based upon one-word associations.
Your C-Level celebrity and partner utters the acronym “CSR” and you respond “SUSTAINABILITY!” The crowd gives a round of applause and you get a pat on the back. Then it’s on to the next word.
About the last thing the CSR or sustainability field needs is yet another term for itself. A while back, I wrote a blog post about this confusion in an attempt to describe where I stand about this word choice. And now the field is faced with another term: Creating Shared Value (CSV).
But in conversations with corporate folks, academics, and social media mavens, I find that Read more…
This post also appeared on the Forbes.com CSR blog.
Even though it’s only March, graduation season is just around the corner. Before you know it, across the country, hundreds of thousands of individuals will be walking across the stage to receive a scroll that represents four years of hard work. It’s the start of a new life and a new career. So what’s a graduate to do if he or she is interested in a career in corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Here is some advice that I often offer to newly minted professionals looking to establish themselves in a career in CSR.
First and foremost, the two most important skills for a CSR-professional include: Read more…