M&A: How to find a sustainability strategy that works

[Editor's note: This is the second post in a six-part series from environmental nonprofit EarthShare. Read the first one -- on employee engagement -- here. Mary MacDonald, the author of this post, is the senior vice president of national business development at EarthShare.]

It takes years to build a workplace culture centered on volunteerism and giving. At EarthShare, we often see companies struggling to decide which causes to support and how to establish a culture that prioritizes sustainability.

These challenges are compounded when companies with very different approaches to sustainability come together.

I recently spoke with two people who have hands-on experience with such mergers: Martha Field, manager of community relations at Thomson Reuters, who spearheaded community involvement through Thomson West's acquisition of Reuters, and Michael Carren, JPMorgan Chase’s vice president and director of employee engagement and financial education, who has built his company’s corporate social responsibility program from scratch.

Thomson Reuters: Colliding cultures

The Thomson West acquisition of Reuters in 2006 presented a real challenge, Field said. The two companies had different corporate responsibility strategies -- Thomson West conducted its volunteer work through a separate foundation, while Reuters kept its outreach efforts in-house.

One challenge with Thomson West's community involvement strategy is that, because the foundation led its community involvement programs, employees weren't expecting to get involved. "Thomson had a foundation which was an important part of the business but which was never promoted as an expectation [of employees]," Field said. 

The newly formed Thomson Reuters came up with a strategy that prioritized workplace giving within the organization. By highlighting community outreach stories, celebrating successes and making sure employees could choose their volunteer work, Field believes Thomson Reuters is now on the right track.

"We are still very grassroots-oriented but we're increasingly seeing greater emphasis from the leadership team to engage and stress the company's commitment to giving and community involvement," she said.

The new strategy makes sense. According to the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, employees who are actively involved in their company's cause program are 28 percent more likely to be proud of their company's values and 36 percent more likely to feel a strong sense of company loyalty compared to employees who are not involved. 

For Thomson Reuters, this meant moving away from the foundation as the focal point and developing a more integrated approach that empowered its employees and offered more choice.

Next page: JPMorgan Chase