Andrea Learned

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Corporate Sustainability’s Unsung Heroes


Two recent award announcements got me thinking about an untapped communications opportunity for corporate sustainability. One was the announcement of CR Magazine’s 2013 list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens , and the other was the “honor roll” finalist list from green marketing strategist and eco-packaging company, GXT Green. The CR Magazine list, according to the press release, “documents 298 data points of disclosure and performance measures—harvested from publicly available information in seven categories: environment, climate change, employee relations, human rights, governance, finance, and philanthropy.” On the other hand, it is unclear how the GXT honor roll finalists were identified or evaluated (and, in any case, their process cannot compete with the ever more stringent measurements considered by CR Magazine’s process). The two awards represent very different stories about the growth and development of sustainability in businesses. So, which approach means most?

Does the world need to hear more stories about corporations making these strides or to hear more of the stories of human beings within big companies, organizations and municipalities (both NYC Mayor Bloomberg and Seattle Mayor McGinn are on the GXT list) pushing and pulling for change from within? The truth is that even though both are important, the change agents within the companies are the unsung heroes of sustainable business progress. Unlike corporations, their  experiences and successes are the ones that offer more emotion and give us more to connect with. They quite literally humanize this big, complex movement toward sustainability, making the whole concept more accessible to a broader range of both citizens and business decision-makers.

It may be that I’m extra passionate about the topic, having recently talked with Susan Hunt Stevens about the employee advocates she meets in the process of her work with Practically Green’s sustainability engagement solution. Or, it could be because I’m extremely proud of my sister who is a determined and self-appointed green team initiator (and nurturer) – in addition to her senior analyst job – in just one small corporate office location of a huge global financial services company. And, what of Jen Jordan, the recycling coordinator for the city of Iowa City, or John R. Connolly, an At-Large Boston City Councilor (who are both on the GXT list) along with the two aforementioned more famous Mayors? What are their stories? What compels, if not propels, these men and women to commit to such change?

Whether it is in the job description or not, the internal, non-executive level people working within Best Corporate Citizen winners like AT&T, The Gap and Campbell Soup Company, are initiating, driving and making changes happen that lead to these corporate awards. Spreading the news of stories like that about one person leading carbon footprint change at a Tennessee grocery chain, for instance, or another person tending to operational efficiencies for a manufacturing plant in South Dakota, does something more than elevate their company’s brand and connection with local communities. The collection of all such stories helps make internal sustainability change agency the norm. If we sing about these heroes a bit more, perhaps they can find one another across the globe, form an informal “club” and build support networks for more.

There are so many unsung sustainability heroes! What are we waiting for?