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Full speed ahead: reflections on the 2014 Conference

Posted on April 25th, 2014 by

Photograph by Jonathan GaymanDeborah K. Holmes, EY Americas Director of Corporate Responsibility

I knew that this year’s Corporate Citizenship Conference had been a success when on the plane back to New York, my brain was toggling between two contradictory ideas:

  • A clear strategy keeps us focused on the end game
  • A single minded focus makes us  blind to new opportunities

To start off the day, Raj Subramaniam described the effort FedEx is making to embed sustainability in every aspect of their business, and to use their global reach to open up new markets for small business owners in Latin America.  Raj’s view on the three components of adaptable leadership really resonated with me:

  • Clarity on where you are going and how we’re going to get there.
  • High performing teams that bring together diverse perspectives and skills
  • Trust and empowerment, so that those you rely can achieve their potential.

As Corporate Responsibility professionals, I believe we are uniquely positioned to be role models for adaptable leadership within our companies.  We understand that finding the “sweet spot” is only half the battle:  we need to have a diverse team behind it that engages diverse stakeholders in working toward a common goal.

As Trisa Thompson of Dell noted, the pace of change in the business world, combined with the heighted expectations of employees is driving a fundamental shift in the role of Corporate Responsibility professionals.   So, how do we balance the need to be strategic and aligned with the need to be flexible and responsive to the changing world around us?

On Monday morning during the plenary session, I laid out a model for thinking of CR strategy as the “sweet spot” where business strategy, societal need and employee skills intersect.  For EY, “entrepreneurship” is in that sweet spot, and April Spencer, Paul Kotz and Cindy Ho – all professionals with full-time day jobs – shared how they have used their skills to support and celebrate entrepreneurship, and how this has enriched their interactions with clients and colleagues, as well as their own career development.

For example, my colleague April, a Tax Partner of Ernst  & Young LLP who also serves as a Community Engagement Champion for its West Region, talked at length about the investment our Strategic Growth Markets (SGM) group has made in our entrepreneurship-focused CR work.  When I think about the team that is driving our CR commitment to entrepreneurship, it includes SGM leadership, Endeavor and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), as well as the members of my team. And we execute our strategy by empowering people like Cindy Ho, NFTE volunteer and Adopt-a-Class co-project manager and Paul Kotz, returning EY Vantage Advisor, who brings both a passion and valuable skills set to the entrepreneurial sector.

In this changing world, we cannot afford to not be driven by what we in CR want our future to look like.  We need to have a strategy that integrates the perspectives of all our stakeholders and leverages their skills and talents.

I want to thank the BCCC leadership by encouraging us to keep that idea front and center.


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Ernst & Young LLP.



Watching our employee environmental volunteer program grow

Posted on November 6th, 2012 by

Our annual Earthwatch-Ernst & Young Ambassadors Program has something in common with my garden – it is vibrant and fast-growing. It is also an integral part of the seasonal rhythm at Ernst & Young, but not in exactly the way I had envisioned when we planted the first seeds over four years ago.

Yes, our people have contributed to the Earthwatch Institute’s environmental field research in Brazil and Costa Rica.

Yes, they have used their professional skills to help local businesses, farming cooperatives and not-for-profits with their business practices.

Yes, they come back to the office energized and more committed than ever to “walking the talk” on sustainability.

All of that was part of the plan. What I did not foresee, but have come to value greatly, is the ways these diverse teams of Ambassadors have built relationships, adopted new perspectives and demonstrated for all of us what it means to expand their global mindset and become inclusive leaders. In addition to working in an unfamiliar environment where the culture and language is different, the Ambassadors have the challenge of coming together for a week and quickly learning to build on each other’s strengths, and to take advantage of the creativity and skills of each multinational, cross-service line team to deliver meaningful skills-based projects to their local clients.

In 2009, we launched our first Earthwatch-Ernst & Young Ambassador expedition to the Tarrazú region of Costa Rica and enabled a select group of professionals to participate in a skills-based volunteering experience and gain hands-on experience in sustainability. By focusing on early-career professionals and offering a one-week experience, we differentiated this program from our other successful international volunteering program, the Corporate Responsibility Fellows program, which is open to people at the manager level or higher and sends them on a seven-week assignment with an entrepreneur in Latin America.

In 2010, we opened the application pool to eligible employees from across the Americas (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America), and Israel, and doubled the size of the program, sending two teams to Costa Rica to conduct research on coffee farming methods and to assist the Tarrazú coffee growers cooperative with business planning. In 2011, we sent our first team to Brazil’s Rio Cachoeira area where they conducted field research and assisted a local honey cooperative with cash flow and marketing. And this past year, we tripled the size of the program, sending two teams to the Guaraqueçaba region of Brazil to assist with research on biodiversity and work with an ecotourism cooperative, and sending one team to Costa Rica to continue our skills-based work with the coffee cooperative. All told, more than 70 Earthwatch-Ernst & Young Ambassadors have participated in expeditions over the course of four years.

With the Earthwatch-Ernst & Young Ambassadors program, we have found the sweet spot at the intersection of employee interest, people strategy and corporate responsibility priorities.  This past spring, my team read through more than 250 applications to select the Ambassadors for the 27 open spots (the three team leaders are chosen through a different process).

Ambassadors rave about the program within Ernst & Young and externally. Byron Chard, a staff accountant from Canada, blogged for the Vancouver Sun. Andrea Torrico, a Tax senior from Atlanta, was recently interviewed by AccountingWEB, a key trade for our industry. Matt Collins, an Assurance manager from Phoenix, was featured in a story. Our success with the Earthwatch Ambassadors in the Americas has also led Ernst & Young to launch similar expeditions in our Europe, Asia-Pacific and Japan regions.[MV1]

Not just a volunteer opportunity, Earthwatch is one of the key mobility experiences available to our professionals. My colleagues in the People Team understand that short immersion trips offer cultural awareness, experiential learning, networking, and team building opportunities for our people that are integral to their growth as global leaders.

And from a corporate responsibility perspective, we continue to instill a socially responsible mindset in our people by getting them out from behind their computers and into the world where the environment is not an ideal, but something that directly impacts the livelihood of communities on the local and broader level. We’re proud of what our Earthwatch Ambassadors contribute in the field, but we are even prouder of their potential to contribute as environmental advocates when they return.


Listen Local, Act Global

Posted on October 9th, 2012 by

Mike DupeeIn business, many of us try to engage in visioning exercises, brainstorming adventures, long-range planning sessions, and other lesser forms of torture to help us identify the outcomes we want to see in the world as a result of our sustainability initiatives.

The point is, if you want to be successful with a program or initiative, you’d better be really sure about the outcome you want to affect once you’ve executed.

But what if the decision about outcome isn’t wholly yours to make? Or, put another way, should it be? If you want your initiative to be successful, then it’s beneficial to step outside of “traditional” constructs and first master the art of effective listening. Read the rest of this entry »


Measured approach contributes to corporate citizenship success

Posted on August 27th, 2012 by

Christine MadiganYou might have heard about the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) recently. The SAC was founded by an industry-wide group of leading apparel and footwear brand owners, retailers, manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, academic experts, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is an organization that seeks to measure and reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world. Read the rest of this entry »


Why I Love the Sustainability Report Assurance Process (A geeky confession to my fellow report editors)

Posted on July 31st, 2012 by

I admit I may be delirious from all the number crunching, prose dissecting, and painful proofreading. But in these waning days before our next sustainability report is published, I confess that I enjoy the assurance process.

It’s not the general attitude. After all, a bunch of accountants come into your world for a rigorous review of your numbers. They require (gasp) documentation to prove your “facts”. They find those discrepancies between last year and this year. They challenge your subject matter experts on the methodology of their charts and graphs. And to be honest, they take a lot of glee in your mistakes. Read the rest of this entry »


Beyond Compliance: Corporate Citizenship and Moral Capitalism

Posted on June 21st, 2012 by

In reflecting on recent “scandals” in the corporate world – from noisy financial crises and resignations, to bribery and corruption allegations at home and abroad – I wondered what is needed in the corporate world to adopt an ethic of “good” corporate behavior. These simple questions require complicated reasoning to resolve.

Paraphrasing Wikipedia, ethics is defined as moral philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviors. A distinction has been drawn in philosophy between ethics and morality with the focus on ethics being more based on duty, obligation, and conduct, with morals being related more to the notion of virtue. I believe we may have allowed our discussion of business ethics to be too focused on duty and obligation and may have lost an appropriate amount of emphasis on the moral dimensions of that code.

While some of our recent notable financial crises have been caused by actions that have been in compliance with laws or internal policies of the involved firms, in hindsight, not many would call them “good” in the moral sense. Compliance is the minimum required of a corporation but being compliant can create the impression that we are being ethical, which is not always the case. Our financial institutions may have been in compliance with the law in the repackaging of the risky loans which led to the financial crisis. Some of the correspondence uncovered after the fact indicates that there was at least debate about whether the passing-on of that risk was “right.” But were the players ethical in the moral sense of the word? Had the market not collapsed, they may have been considered financial geniuses as the hedge fund managers who shorted those instruments were, but in taking that enormous risk, were they acting morally? Read the rest of this entry »


How to embed sustainability into the business enterprise

Posted on May 15th, 2012 by

For consumer products companies like Avon, there is often a quick assumption that sustainability will focus on the products themselves – products that are green, organic, natural or similar designations.  But at Avon, and many peer companies, the sustainability imperative is embedded organically (no pun!) into the business enterprise, with a commitment to identify and leverage sustainable opportunities in the processes required to develop, create and deliver products to the consumer.

Historically these processes have been invisible to the stakeholder, but with the increased demand for transparency and disclosure, companies have a greater opportunity to showcase meaningful commitments – a silver lining in the sometimes cloudy sky of reporting, rankings and ratings.  And, along the way, the thousands of employees who bring the sustainability commitment to life, from environmental engineers to marketers, are elevated to playing a role in a larger mission, not just “doing their jobs.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Using corporate responsibility to mind the talent gap

Posted on February 10th, 2012 by


Shannon SchuylerNews headlines across the world remain focused on record joblessness and struggling economies. A deeper story, however, lies in the scarcity of talent facing corporate America. Today’s workers simply don’t have the skills employers need.

PwC’s recently released 2012 Global CEO Survey found that almost 60 percent of U.S. CEOs planning to hire this year believe it won’t be easy to find the right people. (And this despite a jobless rate that’s hovered in the 9 percent range for months in the U.S.)

Almost a quarter of the U.S. CEOs confirm they were unable to pursue a market opportunity and another fifth were unable to innovate effectively because of talent constraints. Eighty-four percent of these CEOs are making direct investments in workforce development, but these measures alone aren’t enough. Most people consider hiring and retaining the right people a human resources issue, but I and others in the corporate responsibility (CR) community consider recruitment and retention inextricably linked to our field.

Read the rest of this entry »

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