Questions sustainability execs want to be asked in 2016


This article is part of an end-of-year series on the biggest challenges and opportunities for corporate sustainability executives. Read part one and part two posted in recent days.

As 2015 ends and 2016 begins, we asked members of the GreenBiz Executive Network, our member-based, peer-to-peer learning forum for sustainability professionals, to look ahead and share what they would like to be asked in 2016 (and why).

Most questions they’d like to be asked focus on ways to work together and create collaborative solutions. This didn’t come as a big surprise as most people working in sustainability rely upon collaborating and cajoling others in order to help achieve their company’s goals.

Here's what our members said when we asked: What question are you not being asked, who should ask, and what would you say?

Dave Stangis, vice president — public affairs and corporate responsibility at Campbell Soup Company; president, Campbell Soup Foundation:

"How can we work together to make this company the best on the planet?" Asked by any functional lead: Human Resources, Finance, Marketing, Communications, Procurement, Risk, Production, Sales.

"if you have 30 minutes, let’s grab a coffee and I’ll tell you."

Kim Marotta, director sustainability, MillerCoors:

“What are you doing to create impact and how can I get involved?”

What we’re not being asked, at least not enough is, "What are you doing to create impact and how can I get involved?" We have worked with strong partners to put a number of transformative programs in place, but getting people to understand that we can continue to make a difference through enhanced partnerships is key.

Ultimately, creating greater awareness and getting more companies, foundations, government agencies and non-profit partners working together will create the scale and results we’d like to see.

Nanette Lockwood, global director, climate policy, Ingersoll Rand Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability:

"What will it take to accelerate the uptake of new low carbon technologies?" Governments need to help create value in this space for consumers and discourage the use of existing high carbon technologies in some way.

Brandy M. Wilson, global sustainability director, CH2M

I would love for a recent graduate to ask me if I am the same person now as the woman who embarked on this whole sustainability gig a dozen or so years ago.

Like many others who evolved the practice of sustainability in business, who pre-dated or created sustainability positions in companies, I wonder what it is like for folks today who can actually select "sustainable something" as a major and how that shapes their approach to reaching a sustainable future. I would say that it’s a paradox. I’ve become more deeply committed to a sustainable future, but I am less inclined to dictate one path for getting there or tell anyone they are doing something completely wrong. On the surface, that might look like compromise, or like I’ve been worn down or lost idealism. Actually, it’s that I want everyone to get there, regardless of where they start from, and I’m much more inclined to extend a hand than point a finger. I want the biggest tent possible.

Jenny McColloch — director, restaurant sustainability, McDonald's Corporation:

I’d love for customers or restaurant employees to say to me, "How can you translate sustainability into stories that mean something to me and my community?" 

I feel that all of us in the sustainability field need to help each other with this challenge. We spend so much time immersed in technical jargon: energy data; carbon footprints; environmental materiality; ROI; and the list goes on. Outside our sustainability circles, these topics don’t make it easy to connect with people and unlock their passion, which are necessary if we’re going to move toward the behavior changes we want to see in our global society. At McDonald’s, I’m thankful for the recent teamwork with our Digital and Communications teams to share stories with our customers in more simple and visual (PDF) ways. I’m looking forward to more listening and learning in this area in the year ahead.

Tom Carpenter, director, growth and development, Waste Management Sustainability Services:

"What more can we do to collaborate in the creation of the circular economy?" It is the collaboration of several unlikely partners that is needed to redesign the way we produce goods and services.

Candace “CT” Taylor Anderson, director, sustainability, Belk:

"How can we get our customers more engaged and involved to the point where they want to have a voice in our business operations?"

Asked by senior executives charged with strategy and business growth who are focused on two-way communication and building open relationships with customers to maintain and gain loyalty.

Transparency is the answer. Even if you don’t have it figured out, most people will give you credit for trying.

Laura Bishop, vice president, public affairs and sustainability, Best Buy Co., Inc.:

We need more customers to ask, "How can I lead a more sustainable life?"

We know that today they crave the latest and greatest technology to save money, stay connected with others and add convenience to their lives. We can help them see that even as they’re enjoying those personal benefits, they can be part of the climate change solution and that it’s important, too.

Laurel Peacock, senior manager, sustainability, NRG Energy:

Traditional investors should ask us, "What are you doing to manage climate change risks and mitigate effects in your industry?" 

We have an internal price of carbon in all of our decision-making modeling, a short and long term sustainability strategy and are proactively engaging stakeholders throughout our operations.

Kathrin Winkler, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer, EMC:

"Is ICT doing enough around e-Waste?"

Nope — not yet. We still haven’t found the right formula and set of partners that would create a global e-Waste ecosystem that not only avoids exposing workers to hazardous processes, but captures more material for re-use (in both developed and developing countries) while enabling local communities to participate in the economic flows.

Who should ask? Some NGOs that are too focused on only one dimension of the challenge and credible conveners who can bring together the stakeholders and us. We, as an industry, should also be asking.

Deborah Hecker, vice president, sustainability and corporate social responsibility, Sodexo North America:

I would like our clients to ask us to help them with employee engagement, which will improve their (and Sodexo’s) sustainability performance. People increasingly expect their employers to demonstrate measurable progress in the areas of environmental sustainability and local community support, and growing interest in these topics can be more effectively harnessed and transformed into both individual and organizational actions. Only through meaningful collaboration can we accelerate the changes that need to take place on a global level, and I would love to develop strategies with our clients for solving problems together.