Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Brands Taking Stands" at COMMIT!Forum 2017

Collage of images from COMMIT!Forum 2017

What do Goodyear, Smithfield Foods, JetBlue and Bank of America have in common? And what can we learn from them?

For two days in mid-October, some 200+ leaders, including several CEOs and heads of corporate social responsibility, gathered together outside Washington, DC to examine how major corporate brands are taking critical stands on social issues. I was a first-time participant in the 2017 COMMIT!Forum, hosted by 3BL Media, which recently acquired CR Magazine and the Corporate Responsibility Association. But, this event was about much more than public relations. This was a CSR practitioner forum, a chance for companies to share best practices and discuss common challenges.

Senior executives from household brands such as GM, Goodyear, Campbell Soup, BofA, JetBlue, and Smithfield Foods, and B2C brands like Mosaic, Leidos, KPMG, AIAG, TerraCycle and NRG, took to the stage in brief keynotes or panel discussions. Even recent startups were represented, by Bevi, a tech-enabled beverage machine provider. Also featured were top consultants, strategists, associations and service providers in the CSR space (like ACCP and BCCCC), sharing emerging trends and recent data. Major keynotes were delivered by the CEOs of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and Cornerstone Capital. It was great to see the variety in challenges and opportunities these companies have chosen to embrace.

Here are a few examples: Leidos, a global IT and engineering firm, has teamed with the state of Maryland in response to the nation's growing opioid addiction epidemic, sparked by the determination of a single employee and the commitment of an enlightened CEO. Mosaic, a leading fertilizer company with mining and production operations, is tackling watershed contamination (a product end-of-life issue) by developing and incentivizing best practices among users at the end of the value chain. Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork processor and hog producer, unveiled at COMMIT!Forum their new initiative, Smithfield Renewables. In addition to establishing significant environmental impact targets, the company will begin producing methane, from the biodigestion of hog manure, for the generation of electricity; enough to power over 50,000 homes for a year.

Another rich feature on the agenda were the 10 round table discussions on topics such as Materiality Assessment, Sustainable Supply Chains, Integrating the SDGs into Sustainability Strategies, Purpose and Corporate Responsibility and the Neuroscience of Civic Engagement. In these 45-minute sessions, practitioners compared tactics and experiences across varying sectors and levels of maturity of their CSR efforts.

Also of note was the discussion of the auto industry's push towards sustainable supply. Senior leaders from GM, Goodyear and the World Wildlife Fund, representing interests along the tire value chain, sat down to discuss the sourcing of sustainable natural rubber for tires. This past May, GM initiated an effort among suppliers, NGOs and even competitors, that seeks to reduce deforestation of primary forests, while helping natural rubber producers create more value in their product through improved yield and quality. This industry alignment brings to mind the call from Jason Clay, also of the World Wildlife Fund, to "make sustainability a pre-competitive issue".

So overall, COMMIT!Forum 2017 presented an interesting snapshot of major corporations, as they seek to engage in positive ways with stakeholders in their local communities and around the globe. While there is a long way to go, it is encouraging to see these companies grappling with critical issues and taking a broader, long-term view of their responsibility and potential impact.

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