Corporate social responsibility is an evolving theme in the social sector. For this month’s Philanthropist Around Town, we interview Maureen Kline, Vice President, Public Affairs & Sustainability at Pirelli Tire North America.
1. Pirelli has described its commitment to ‘doing good’ as more than CSR (corporate social responsibility). Can you describe how this started and the response you’ve received so far?
I believe CSR and sustainability (I will use the terms interchangeably here) have evolved in 4 phases: initially, companies organized themselves to comply with regulations, and later on they began to see the opportunity for good environmental and social behavior, including for reputational reasons. We’ve been in a third phase for some time, where sustainability has emerged as a field, and transparency in reporting is expected. The fourth phase will be integration of sustainability into the ordinary practice of doing business.
Pirelli has moved ahead quickly. We have regional sustainability managers charged with implementing our sustainability actions; our industrial plans are always integrated with sustainability plans and targets; our executives have incentives tied to sustainability performance. These are just some examples of our ongoing integration, which is a journey. The response has been very positive.
2. What lessons have the team at Pirelli learned with integrating sustainability into their management model that smaller businesses can utilize?
I would say take an approach that is both top down and bottom up.
The top management needs to understand sustainability and why it’s important for the company, what the context is and what the goals are over time. At the same time one of the most important stakeholders is employees, and employees need to be both involved in sustainability and empowered. We put out a call for a committee of volunteers that would come up with social and environmental projects employees and the company could be involved with, such as river cleanups, food drives, and mentoring. For one location in particular we created a budget for community involvement but asked the employees to decide together what charitable cause to spend it on. We are also rolling out sustainability training. Sustainability can get employees really engaged in the company they work for, and give them greater pride in their work.
3. There seems to be one word each year that is the CSR buzzword – from fair trade to responsible supply chain management. What do you think the buzzword for 2018 will be and what trend is it pointing to?
I think the term for 2018 will be ‘systems thinking’. Business is now expected to step in and solve large scale problems like poverty, disease and global warming. These problems require collaboration: companies in the same industry banding together, and public-private partnerships. And since everything is so interconnected, sustainable solutions require a new kind of thinking that looks across silos, takes into account all the stakeholders and all the stakes, and weighs the direct and indirect impacts of every action.
4. Pirelli uses the GRI to produce its sustainability report. Given how extensive of a reporting process GRI demands, what are the most important elements of the GRI G4 reports that other businesses should focus on?
I think we should focus on the fact that sustainability is a journey, not a point of arrival, and GRI is a process.
It is worthwhile to spend time and resources putting that process in place, even if it doesn’t happen overnight. Pirelli made sure to develop our data collection system in a way that served our specific purposes, and we honed our stakeholder engagement process over time. So the important elements are: putting in place the system of collecting data, stakeholder engagement for your materiality assessment, developing your sustainability strategy, board involvement, and third party assurance. This process doesn’t just get you a good report, it advances sustainability within your company.
5. The social sector has a high percentage of female employees, but the ratios get much smaller at the top. What advice do you have for women looking to move up?
Think outside the box (which I’m sure your readers do). Be confident enough to introduce a new paradigm – your own – rather than ambitiously copying the guys at the top.
I do think collaboration and systems thinking come very naturally to most women.
I think this is our time to lead, and we’ll be seeing not only more women at the top, but also better role models in general, better ways of doing business, a more collaborative world.
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