Wednesday, November 25, 2009


There's no question that McDonald's golden arches represent an iconic brand. The bold arches on a red backdrop are ubiquitous around the world and signify a variety of things (positive and negative) to consumers everywhere.

Some might associate the logo with happy childhood memories and cheerful television commercials (Who doesn't love Ronald McDonald? Or, at least, the Hamburgler? Robble Robble!). Others may view the logo as a corporate behemoth that has industrialized food and agriculture, dive-bombing a nation's nutrition. A few may also view McDonald's as a pioneer in partnering with environmental nonprofits such as Conservation International, the Environmental Defense Fund or the Natural Resources Defense Council.

It seems this last opinion is one that McDonald's hopes to strengthen in its customers' minds, at least in Germany. By changing the red background to green, McDonald's wants to signify a more environmentally friendly brand, one that innovates in the corporate sustainability space and seeks credit for its progress.

The McDonald's CSR journey is well-documented in business school cases, articles and its own publications. I've had the opportunity to meet many members of the company's CSR team and I can tell you that they take their responsibility seriously and are among the most well-intentioned practitioners I know. Even though I knew of much of the company's work, its Global Best of Green 2009 publication was an eye-opener for me and I was impressed by (and jealous of!) the wealth of ideas that have bubbled up from its employees around the globe.

But I still have to question the company messing with its branding. Does the average consumer truly believe that McDonald's is making honest strides at environmental sustainability? Did the company consider the economic value of its brand equity in making this change? Is it wise to drastically alter the brand promise in one region of the world, but not in others? Will consumers still care about sustainability in a few years?

I don't claim to be a marketer or an expert when it comes to branding, but I'm skeptical of this move. As a CSR practitioner, I'm excited to see a company take on this type of change in such a big way, so I hope my initial misgivings are proven wrong!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Remembering Neal Kearney

In the world of CSR, there’s much discussion of “stakeholders” and whether or not a company is appropriately engaging them. My last company, an apparel retailer, had an especially sophisticated approach to stakeholder engagement. It’s a years-long evolution that has resulted in very strong relationships.

One of the company’s most important stakeholders is the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF), a global union federation that advocates for workers’ rights in apparel supply chains. Neal Kearney, who sadly passed away unexpectedly last week, was the general secretary of ITGLWF and a very passionate, committed defender of human rights.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Neal several times during my tenure at my former company. He was fiercely intelligent and did not compromise when he thought the well-being of workers was at stake. His tireless efforts took him around the world, and his perspective was respected and sought by many multi-national apparel companies.

But beyond the great work he did on behalf of under- (or un-) represented garment workers everywhere, he was a very charming and kind man. As a representative of a major apparel retailer, I often found myself at the receiving end of his criticisms, but once the “work” part of our meetings ended, he’d be the first to suggest grabbing a drink. In these social situations, I found Neal to be funny, engaging and a pleasure to be around. He stood firm on what he believed, but he also knew how to enjoy life.

In Neal’s passing, the world has lost a true champion of the underprivileged. He will be missed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Have an Idea!

Companies are networks of individual people. So, to be successful, you need to build relationships with your colleagues in order to get many things done. This especially holds true in CSR where you’re often part of a very small team with limited resources and you depend on others to help bring your work to life.

One of my biggest challenges in working for a large company is identifying the right person or people to help take a project from idea to execution. I’ve only been with my company for a year and a half, so I feel like I’m still learning the ropes and trying to figure out who’s in charge of what.

As a result, I often spend time following up on e-mails and voice messages that seem to have fallen on deaf ears. For example, I just spent about 45 minutes going through sent messages and either re-sending them to the original recipient or forwarding them to other people, in the hopes that someone will bite.

In my (very humble) opinion, I have some interesting ideas! The problem is, when you’re approaching a busy colleague who has no idea who you are (or what your job is), it’s tough to get them to understand how you can help. In CSR, you’re constantly engaging internally and building not only the value of your work, but also the value of your self.

So, especially during the early days of working for a company, you spend a lot of time re-sending, re-explaining and hoping that someone “gets” what you mean and agrees that you have an idea worth chatting about.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Downstream Pressure and Collaboration

For those of you who think working in CSR is all about aligning initiatives with a company's strategy, rest assured that there are much more tactical projects that cross my desk. It's no secret that everyone in this field is thinking about supply chain impacts. With Walmart pushing for asustainability index and requiring that its suppliers answer 15 questions regarding their sustainability practices, every company is thinking about how to go about this in practice.

My company is a Walmart supplier. And Walmart's focus on sustainability is great for someone in my position. Here's an important customer that cares about my work and here's a fantastic opportunity to show how what I do adds real, tangible value for our company.

Recently, this "customer pressure" has translated into a new project for me. I've been working with one of our sales executives and several Walmart executives on demonstrating the financial and environmental value of one of our service offerings.

I just got off the phone with members of the Walmart team and I think we have our project mapped out. Now, it's a matter of finding the right people in my organization who have the information and data I need to perform my analysis ... all before our next call in two weeks.

It's an interesting project, but it's one that's very tactical. I'm looking forward to working on something a bit more tangible and data-driven, but it requires me to dig deep and remember some lessons from modeling (financial and otherwise) classes. What's tricky (and exciting) here, is that there's no clear and easy way to approach this. It's a new project and it requires the company to think in a different way. I cannot lean on the past work of other colleagues, but I have to chart a new course.

Having worked on similar projects in the past, I know that the math may be fuzzy and no one will confirm that I'm approaching this in the right way. Instead, I'll get a lot of questions and people will (rightfully) wonder if my approach is the most logical one. There are no clear answers to these questions, but we can arrive at a good approximation of our environmental impacts.

In the end, it's a great chance for me to work with people from other companies and to see firsthand how they approach sustainability. It will give some visibility to my work and hopefully demonstrate that I can be of service to other parts of the business as well!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CSR and Social ME-dia

As I mentioned, I attended the Net Impact annual conference recently and I noticed that there were many sessions on social media. When I attended my first conference nearly a decade ago, there obviously were no panels on the topic, so it's interesting to see the momentum behind this.

Social media seems to vex many big, established companies. Not only from the perspective of how it should be used with regards to CSR, but also from the perspective that companies want to "control" what is said about the enterprise as much as possible.

Clearly, since I started this little blog, I'm dipping my toe into the social media world. I think I've also figured out how twitter is useful, after playing around with it for the past few months.

But are companies really using social media for CSR? We recently released our biennial Corporate Citizenship Report and were approached by a number of companies that wanted us to tell this story through social media. We decided to use one of these services to communicate the report's launch and to tell some of the stories within it, but I'm not sure I've seen any value from it. As a result of this month-long contract, I find that many of my days are spent preparing content to be distributed through these channels. I re-package information from the report, think through new storylines and I struggle with uploading videos through a cumbersome online portal. It's taking up a lot of my time, but where are the results?

We've scheduled a conversation about measuring the impact of these services, so it will be interesting to see what the company claims as value derived from the partnership.

As part of this social media "campaign," I had to sit for an on-camera interview in preparation for the report's launch a few weeks ago. Even though I've gone through media training a few times, it was still a very anxiety-inducing experience.


Having spent my entire professional career in the private sector, I think I need to make it absolutely clear that everything I post on this blog is my own opinion and doesn't represent the position of my employer (present or past), any organizations of which I'm a member, nonprofits on whose board I serve or any community of which I claim membership.

Basically, you can hold me accountable for anything I post here, but don't think that everyone I associate with agrees with me!


With so many corporate social responsibility (CSR) blogs and resources out there, what could I possibly add to the dialogue/noise? And in such a new "industry," certainly no one can profess to have all the answers or claim true mastery.

I can, however, share my experiences and opinions from spending several years as a CSR practitioner in the hopes that this blog helps to illuminate the truth (the good, the bad and the ugly) about my job and others like it.

Recently, I returned from Ithaca, NY where I attended the Net Impact annual conference. It was my eighth conference and continues to be one of the highlights of my year. What I cannot even begin to communicate is the energy and optimism that results from thousands of MBAs and professionals who come together with a more noble vision for the purpose of business and its role in society. At 2,400 participants, it was Net Impact's largest conference to date and it's clear that interest in CSR continues to gain momentum.

What's frustrating, however (and I've certainly experienced this firsthand), is that the idealism expressed by students and professionals who aren't CSR practitioners doesn't always match up with reality. Even at the most "progressive" companies, CSR isn't readily embraced and there are many, many uphill battles and difficult conversations to be had.

So I hope this blog can serve as a resource to those who are interested in learning more about CSR and how companies can play an active role in improving society and the environment. To the fullest extent possible, I'll offer my honest opinion and unguarded insight into my day-to-day world.