If the growth in corporate sustainability and reporting over the past decade has shown us anything, it’s that there isn’t a standard definition or a one-size-fits-all approach to this work. Yet while companies are varied in their methods for implementing this work, a new study shows that sustainability practitioners within companies, diverse as they may be, rely on similar strategies to achieve success.
The study, titled Making The Pitch: Selling Sustainability From Inside Corporate America, sought to “understand the skills, drivers and partnership-cultivation strategies necessary for executive success” in the sustainability arena. VOX Global, Weinreb Group Sustainability Recruiting and the UC Berkeley chapter of Net Impact surveyed more than 30 corporate sustainability practitioners and conducted follow-up interviews with executives at companies such as AT&T, DuPont, EMC, Hilton Worldwide, and McDonald’s.
Respondents were asked to evaluate the importance of three possible drivers of success among sustainability leaders (note: respondents were able to choose all that apply):
1. Interpersonal skills
2. The ability to quantify the value of an initiative
3. Subject matter expertise
Contrary to what I expected, 100% of respondents indicated that interpersonal skills are the attribute most critical to a sustainability leader’s success on the job, while quantifying value and subject matter expertise were highly valued by 81% and 66% of survey respondents, respectively. According to the survey, selling sustainability within corporate America is a balancing act largely dependent on successful relationship building as well as the ability to communicate with business leaders in a way that articulates how sustainability measures will help achieve their existing business objectives.
To learn more about the study’s findings, visit: Making The Pitch: Selling Sustainability From Inside Corporate America. To read more about how best to communicate sustainability over digital and social channels, see our previous blog on Communicating Sustainability in a Social World.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy issued the findings of their latest Corporate Giving Survey today. As expected, overall funding remained fairly flat with the continued economic recession. Key findings include:
- Of the 115 large corporations responding to the survey, cash donations grew just four percent in 2011.
There are 13 companies that donated over $100,000 in cash
Production donations are growing at a faster rate than cash donations
One area the survey also highlighted was that companies are more strategically investing their philanthropic dollars and focusing on fewer causes. This is something we are also seeing with our clients as the concept of Shared Value – focusing on the connections between societal and economic progress – is taking hold with more corporate CSR and philanthropy programs.
As the CoP article notes, this is a “long-term trend” with companies “zeroing in on social issues that threaten their bottom lines like people’s ill health, high transportation costs, or diminishing fresh water.” CoP also highlights the positive benefits for the company by helping them to access new markets, continue to build brand equity and relationships with their consumers and engage their employees in volunteering.
More than 45,000 leaders of governments, business and advocacy organizations from around the world gathered recently at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to explore solutions on important development issues, from food and water security to healthcare, from oceans to sustainable cities and climate change.
What made this event different from previous UN summits was a greater presence of multinational corporations, with more than 1,500 business execuives on hand to announce new initiatives and commitments. That amount compares to just a handful who were present at the first Earth Summit.
Increasingly, multilateral institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and regional development banks are partnering with the private sector to implement development strategies. They recognize that solving development challenges such as global food security, disease or energy poverty requires financial resources beyond what governments or multilateral institutions can provide.
The UN increasingly sees its role as working with its member states to put in place regulatory frameworks that reduce risk and make it more attractive for private companies to invest, create markets and provide goods and services. It is creating new public-private partnerships that pool public funding from governments and bodies such as development banks to leverage greater investment from private companies.
At Rio+20, we saw an example of this in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. More than 100 governments, companies and civil society organizations made commitments in Rio. In addition, the Asian Development Bank has recently pooled together a consortium of banks and corporations to invest $175 billion in sustainable transportation systems.
No doubt, multinational companies will continue to invest in development priorities through their in-house CSR programs. But today many are also looking for ways to partner with multilateral institutions and civil society organizations to advance high-impact, high-priority global development challenges.
Powell Tate, with support from our Weber Shandwick colleagues in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, helped raise the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All to the top of the global development agenda at the Rio+20 Summit. Sustainable Energy for All was launched earlier this year by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Working with the UN Foundation, we have organized events, managed media relations and created digital tools in support of the initiative in Washington, New York, London, Brussels, Abu Dhabi, Nairobi, Johannesburg and New Delhi, as well as during Rio+20.
Here, for organizations interested in the future of U.S. healthcare, is a little multiple-choice quiz. According to recent media coverage, last Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act is either:
A) The biggest boon to mankind since the invention of the wheel.
B) A sure sign that the apocalypse is in the immediate offing.
C) A highly nuanced ruling whose implications remain largely uncertain and will be parsed for months to come.
E) All of the above.
If you chose “E,” congratulations, you’re correct. All of the above it most certainly is. To study the media coverage of the SCOTUS ruling on the ACA, after all, is to recognize all too readily that the reports, analysis and opinion available about its meaning, significance and outlook ran the gamut.
For example, the hospital industry will come away the big winner, it is declared. That’s because so many newly insured patients will now be granted admission through the front door rather than through the emergency room. Then again, it’s also stated, hospitals are doomed to be the biggest losers in the whole equation. That’s because with Medicaid expansion left to states – and doubt about which ones will opt in or opt out – reimbursement dollars are at risk of plummeting by the billions.
In short, up is down and, with all due respect to Justice Roberts, right is left and left right. So it can go with the media, whether mainstream or its tributaries. Plus, some outlets tripped over themselves, and each other, rushing to deliver the goods first. One minute comes word that the law is found unconstitutional, the next we do a 180. Whoops.
So how should you respond to media requests for comment? Here – whether you’re an insurer, a health system, a trade association, a consultancy, a medical device maker, a pharmaceutical firm, a government agency, an advocacy group or a think tank – are some basics for engaging.
1. Vet the request. Ask the reporter for an idea of the kinds of questions likely to be asked of your C-suite spokesperson, even the specific questions themselves. Then vet it all again. Check what the reporter has written before. Establish a baseline understanding with said reporter about the overall message. Even try – diplomatically, of course – to get something in writing.
2. Consider the context of the interview. In keeping with point “1,” find out the thrust of the article or the trend angle at play (Obamacare as Trotskyite conspiracy), the hypotheses to be tested (President as proof of a messiah), the other experts to be interviewed (federal officials, Tea Party activists). Some reporters may play coy (“Well, you know, it’s just the usual stuff.”) Insist, albeit politely.
3. Look to influence the editorial process before, during and after. Prep your spokesperson via a rigorous mock interview, even if he or she has shown up on “Squawk Box” 14 times in the last 24 hours and is high in self-esteem. Host the interview to hear the questions asked and the answers given. Follow up with the interviewer, if need be, to offer comment on potential key takeaways.
Now make no mistake: top-tier media coverage of the SCOTUS ACA news has proven largely solid. The most self-respecting reporters aim to play it straight down the middle, staying factual, apolitical, public-service-oriented. They realize a judicial decision, like life, can be 50 shades of grey.
Still, we live in partisan times, a truth no less self-evident in the increasingly ideological media than in the halls of Congress. Right now, courtesy of the ruling, healthcare reform is better defined. But, with the initial hysteria settling down and so much of the law’s implementation yet ahead, it’s still to be figured out, still even somewhat definable.
So if you’re eager to join the conversation – to share your perspective, to raise your visibility, to build your brand equity -- here’s the bottom line. Engage. By all means engage. But watch your step.
Executive Vice President and Senior Global Corporate Strategist
Senior Vice President
Chief Communications Strategist
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