Wanted: Chief Sustainability Officer

Image courtesy of .faramarz

When people think of the company Avon, they may conjure images of door-to-door make-up saleswomen, or they may even recall the company's efforts to fight breast cancer.

Tod Arbogast, vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility at Avon Cosmetics, hopes the company gains a different type of reputation.

"We want to be known as the company that is going to help end deforestation," Arbogast said.

In a workshop at the State of Green Business Forum, Arbogast offered a look at how chief sustainability officers can identify and manage potential environmental and social business risks before a crisis requires immediate action. A range of tools exist to help chief sustainability officers get in front of issues voluntarily, before it becomes mandatory. SOGB badge

"As sustainability practitioners, the earlier we can get visibility into an issue, the better informed we are to make a choice," Arbogast said.

Arbogast took this approach with forestry, a material business issue for a company that is a major publisher of product catalogs. "Our 'storefront' is our brochure, our catalog," Arbogast said.

It was a highly relevant issue for Avon that was growing in attention and concern, but the company had no position or sourcing policy for pulp used in its catalogs. The company utilized a range of tools to help it decide how and when to address deforestation, which eventually led to the formation of what it calls the "Avon Paper Promise."

The Promise aims to promote sustainable forest use through the purchase of 100 percent of its paper from certified and/or post-consumer recycled content sources by 2020, with a preference for pulp certified through the Forest Stewardship Council  (the company is now at about 70 percent, about 30 percent of which is FSC); protecting forests, old growth, high conservation or endangered forests and ecosystems; reducing demand on forests; promoting clean production practices; and promoting continuous improvement and transparency.

To identify potential business risks like forestry, Avon regularly maps issues by weighing both their relevancy and maturity or societal awareness to guide the organization in how they might react.

"If it's very relevant to your organization, but no one in society really knows about the issue, you should probably execute against it, but do so quietly. No point in being outspoken about it if no one really knows about it," Arbogast said. "If it's very relevant and its an issue that well known, you should be very strategic with it."

Is it a less-relevant issue that's not well-known? Be responsive based on risk, Arbogast said, but don't allocate a lot of resources. Not relevant, but well-known in society? Be concerned and monitor in case it eventually requires action.

Avon also uses another tool to determine the level of action the company should take on issues, and figure out where it wants to be on issues, based on five stages ranging from Elementary (Stage 1) to Transformational (Stage 5).

"Because of forestry's relevance to Avon, the last place we want to be in terms of our implementation strategy to address the issue is at the elementary level," Arbogast said. "What we really want to be seen as, based on our actions, is transformational."

Image courtesy of .faramarz.