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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: What will it take to “lift the floor” on sustainability?

Suzanne Fallender

02 Mar 2018

Suzanne Fallender,  Intel’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, discusses how to “lift the floor” of sustainability. 

One of the things which is particularly important is not only looking at solving the problem right in front of a firm, but also working with others to address issues at the system level.


When you are working daily on an issue, sometimes it’s hard to see the full scope of change that has occurred. It’s something that I have been thinking a lot about recently, as more and more companies improve their disclosure, goal setting, and stakeholder engagement around sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR), and as more investors focus on how these issues impact long-term performance.

A new Ceres report, Turning Point: Corporate Progress Against the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability highlights the important shifts that have taken place since the Ceres  Roadmap for Sustainability was released in 2010 – and shines a light on the  work that still needs to be done.

One of the report’s key recommendations for the coming years is to not only focus on raising the ceiling through actions by leadership companies, but lifting the floor by engaging companies of all sizes who are just beginning their sustainability and CSR journeys. Many companies have not yet been engaged by investors or non-profit organizations, often due to their size or lack of recognizable brands. They also do not have the large staffs with expertise to proactively engage on sustainability and CSR issues. But, they are suppliers of large leading brands. They are employers. They are members of local communities. And they have a lot of low-hanging fruit that they can take advantage of if we can help them get started with integrating sustainable practices into their operations.

So how do we collectively go about helping to lift the floor?

One of the things which is particularly important is not only looking at solving the problem right in front of a firm, but also working with others to address issues at the system level. This includes sharing our experiences with other companies earlier in their CSR journeys, joining with others in our industry to collectively educate and build capacity of companies in the global electronics supply chain, and looking at ways we can empower other industries to apply technology to support their sustainability goals.

SHARING BEST PRACTICES

We regularly get requests from other companies to share information about our CSR governance practices, including our history of linking compensation to CSR factors and our integrated outreach strategy with investors on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues via annual investor roadshows and integration of ESG information into our Annual Report/10-K. We also engage with other companies to share learnings and best practices around our new water goal – to restore 100 percent of our global water use by 2025 by working with environmental groups and non-profit organizations on projects in local watersheds.

DRIVING COLLECTIVE INDUSTRY ACTION

One of the ways small and medium-sized businesses are getting more engaged on sustainability issues is through increasing requests from their customers. But supplier expectations and audits are only one piece of the picture. Intel and many other global technology companies in the Responsible Business Alliance have been working to create capacity building and learning programs on topics such as human trafficking and forced/bonded labor and encouraging companies to improve their climate and water disclosure, including through CDP.

EMPOWERING DIGITAL EFFICIENCY

With increases in expectations from customers, investors, and other stakeholders for sustainability data and performance, we expect technology will play a critical role both in the ability to help companies effectively track and report on their performance, risks, and impacts of their supply chain. There will also be increased opportunity for companies to apply technology to drive improved digital efficiency – reducing their environmental impact and also helping to drive long-term energy cost savings.

There is much corporate progress on sustainability and CSR to celebrate in the new Ceres report. Today, there is wider recognition of the business value and more different organizations in the sustainability discussion than there were eight years ago.

If I think back to my early days in the field two decades ago, the change is even more dramatic. But I’ve also been struck by the number of people reaching out to us from various companies for insights on how to pull together their first CSR report and investor relations teams asking for advice regarding their first outreach meetings.

There is a lot of opportunity with this new wave of companies. Empowering them will be the key to raising the bar on sustainability innovation and taking the industry to the next level.

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