Good for the bottom line: The CSR panel

While CSR is embraced by most corporations, the prevailing motivation remains feel-good, not financial. A quartet of industry leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid in New York City at this RF|Binder-hosted panel to provide clear examples and tangible proof that sustainable activity equals economic prosperity.

JetBlue's farm at JFK Airport exemplifies a sustainability program that has business impact.
JetBlue's farm at JFK Airport exemplifies a sustainability program that has business impact.


-Scott Beaudoin, chief strategy officer, executive MD, corporate and brand purpose, RF|Binder
-Nancy Elder, VP of communications, JetBlue
-Susan Arnot Heaney, marketing director, Rainforest Alliance
-Andrea Pinabell, VP, sustainability, global citizenship, Starwood Hotels

How do our experts define sustainability? What examples of sustainability efforts really stand out? These topics and more are tackled in the highlights below from the panel discussion.

Defining sustainability

Beaudoin (RF|Binder): "Simply put, sustainability is business practices that are fit for the future. We have to start talking about it in terms of business benefits."
Elder (JetBlue): "Sustainability is not just about our environmental resources. It’s about our human resources. It’s about how we treat ourselves and our fellow man. It’s how we operate with each other and the planet."
Heaney (Rainforest Alliance): "The Rainforest Alliance has distilled this down to planet and people prospering together. You cannot save the planet and sacrifice the people. You cannot save the people and sacrifice the planet."

Shining examples of sustainability in action

Beaudoin (RF|Binder): "G-Star's Raw for the Oceans campaign. This brand took plastic from the ocean and turned it into fashion – a fantastic and functional idea."

Elder (JetBlue): "Our BlueBud program encourages small companies to spend time with us to learn what it takes to get a food or beverage product on our aircraft. One company we were very impressed with was Hot Bread Kitchen in Harlem. We’re in the early stages of having some of their products on our flights as a result of this program."

Pinabell (Starwood Hotels): "Last year we launched Thinking Beyond Conservation during World Water Week. It's about highlighting innovation around technology to reduce water consumption and the partnerships associated with that. It’s about what we’re doing for our communities."

How brands can get started on their sustainability journey

Beaudoin (RF|Binder): "It has to start with the culture. If you get your entire workforce thinking sustainably then it’s not about forcing things on people. It’s about what you do every day."

Heaney (Rainforest Alliance): "You have to measure what you accomplish, so you need a baseline of where you're starting. You also need materiality to make sure that the areas you’re focusing on make sense to your business, to your customers, to your employees."

Pinabell (Starwood Hotels): "It's important to keep it simple. Find two or three things - no more - that make sense to your business. Drill it down to simple messages that resonate with people in your organization."

Go here for an extended version of this panel discussion, including the main factors to be considered when reporting to investors on sustainability activity and a deeper look at how employees are increasingly buying into brands’ programs.

Sustainability earns its way into the financial conversation

Prior to the RF|Binder-hosted panel, Audrey Choi, CEO of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing, delivered a keynote in which she highlighted specific examples of sustainability’s bottom-line impact, as well as the key role certain groups are playing in advancing that understanding. Below are some highlights:

Comms pros’ ability to tell sustainability’s financial story
"The marketing and branding community was really the first to understand how intangibles can be incredibly real. Back in 1975, intangible value was considered to be only about 17% of corporate value. Today that number has skyrocketed. Something very similar is happening with sustainability issues."

Millennials leading the way
"This generation will be our salvation because they are fundamentally thinking about things in a different way. They bring their beliefs into their consuming and investment behavior. Previous generations are all about sustainability on a personal level, but there is a divide when it comes to how they invest. Millennials have no such separation."

By the numbers
"According to a 2015 Harvard Business School study, "low sustainability" investing would see $1 invested in 1993 amount to $14.46 over 20 years. That’s pretty good. However, if you put that same $1 in "high sustainability" investing in 1993, it would have grown to $28.36 in that same two-decade period."

Go here for an extended version of Choi’s keynote comments, including numerous additional examples of sustainability’s clear financial impact and her team’s journey at Morgan Stanley that she describes as "cute to charismatic to commercial."

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