The Past as Prologue: 5 Sustainability Milestones at McGraw-Hill

The Past as Prologue: 5 Sustainability Milestones at McGraw-Hill

When Louise Raymond arrived at The McGraw-Hill Companies over 10 years ago, there was no office of corporate responsibility. Landing directly from New York City government, Raymond -- who is now vice president of corporate responsibility and sustainability -- was hired to oversee the company's philanthropic programs.

McGraw-Hill announced in September the corporation is pursuing a comprehensive Growth and Value Plan that includes separation into two public companies: McGraw-Hill Markets, primarily focused on capital and commodities markets, and McGraw-Hill Education, focused on education services and digital learning.

Change can spur creativity. Raymond looks at the current period as a chance to consider how sustainability and related functions may help develop parts of the company's businesses going forward. Reflecting on the past decade, she sees five milestones in the development of the corporate responsibility and sustainability division, including:

1. Educating senior management
2. Establishing a cross-functional internal working group
3. Conducting a baseline inventory
4. Engaging employees
5. Approaching CR holistically

Raymond notes that the company has grown some of its business lines to reflect its socially responsible focus. Products include Standard & Poor's Global Clean Energy Index, its U.S. Carbon Efficient Index and McGraw-Hill Construction's GreenSource, the Magazine of Sustainable Design, which serves as the official magazine of the U.S. Green Building Council.

One key to those and other sustainability achievements was to pull in people from across the company. "It was a slow start, bringing people together internally for something that wasn't well defined externally" like corporate responsibility, she recalls of the 5 milestones:

1. Educating senior management on the role that Corporate Responsibility plays -- that it "goes beyond what a corporation does with its profits."

One of the first milestones was to recognize the connection between corporate giving and corporate responsibility -- and connect the latter with the bottom line.

"My boss and I chatted about it and began to think about the opportunity to integrate some aspects of CR into the business," she says. "As an information company it gave us the chance to take the lead and focus on CR as a tool for business growth," Raymond adds.

2. Establishing a cross-functional internal working group to build consensus on McGraw-Hill's CR priorities and buy-in on what is needed to be done.

Another milestone was getting others on board.

"It's not intuitive what the role of Corporate Responsibility is beyond supporting the community, so it was hard to understand what were the issues and opportunities," she says.

But once she started to raise the idea, there was leadership support. "No one questioned it; on the contrary they were intrigued and wanted to see where it would lead the corporation."

Forming a working group across corporate divisions and business units including procurement, real estate services, and human resources was part of building consensus.

She says the lynchpin was showing the "unique role" that McGraw-Hill had as an information company to serve the needs of the CR field.

3. Engaging employees in incorporating sustainability into their roles as a career opportunity and tool for business growth (through an Intranet site, training seminars and green teams).

Establishing companywide collaboration involved more than the support of top management and participation of leaders in the working group.

It became clear that engaging employees at all levels would move things forward faster and might even be "necessary to achieve what we wanted as a corporation," she says.

"We thought it would be a great opportunity for employees and another way for them to view the impact of corporate responsibility on their day-to-day roles" she says.

The company created a set of tools and launched several initiatives to give employees ways to discuss and take advantage of CR and sustainability. This included creating an interactive intranet site and conducting several employee forums to talk about CR and the opportunities for McGraw-Hill. The company also tapped employee enthusiasm for all things green by forming a corporate-wide network of "Green Teams."

4. Conducting a baseline inventory of McGraw-Hill's key practices and policies in CR.

Setting up a baseline inventory of key practices and policies in CSR was another critical milestone.

This included finding out about the company's existing key environmental practices, and determining where there were gaps. The focus was on so-called low-hanging fruit and areas where the corporation was being asked questions from the SRI field including making sure that basic environmental policy statements were in place and being shared externally.

Following this assessment, a more formalized process of collecting data and measuring performance was established which strengthened the corporation's ability to make a positive impact.

5. Approaching CR holistically across the corporation.

The company now produces an annual Corporate Responsibility report which updates stakeholders on the corporation's five pillars of CR performance: environment, people, community, marketplace, and governance. McGraw-Hill aligns its sustainability strategy to meet and exceed its performance goals.

With this progress has come recognition including being listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and in the FTSE4 Good Index, inclusion in CR Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens and as a top 100 Best Company by Working Mother Magazine.

Past as Prologue?

As for the future, the experience of integrating sustainability into existing businesses, as well as building new businesses is bound to serve the company well, as McGraw-Hill now pursues its next chapter. As for Ms. Raymond, who thrives on change, the upcoming period is sure to stir creative juices.

Stairs photo via Shutterstock.