The Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility (CCSR) program is a continuing education course taught by Pete Dignan, a 3-time CEO of Certified B Corps, that features guest speakers with deep expertise and practical experience in corporate social responsibility (CSR). To help provide a deeper understanding of what this program has to offer, Pete Dignan has summarized the experiences of three spring 2019 sessions each concentrated on a different CSR topic.
January 30th: the Environment
The CCSR spring 2019 cohort welcomed guest speaker John Heckman on January 30. John serves as Executive Director at Anthesis Group in Boulder, CO. He holds a Ph.D. in Restoration Ecology from Virginia Tech. John spoke about the environmental side of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
He started by asking the class to name the biggest environmental challenge faced by humanity today. Students suggested climate change, water shortages, soil health, plastics in the oceans, species extinction,and more. John acknowledged all these, and then focused in on climate change and the decarbonization of the economy, starting with the power grid, and moving to transportation. He went on to define global sustainability in terms of a closed loop system, with only energy going in (from the sun) and out (reradiated into space), while energy and matter circulates (flows) in the lithosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere.
Our guest speaker went on to make the case that sustainability can and should be a competitive advantage for businesses - and that business is about competing and winning. Using arguments advanced by Michael Porter and others, John shared several methods for creating competitive advantage. He guided students through a process for assessing the materiality of sustainability issues, and for using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for selecting issues to address.
John concluded by providing a framework for expressing the business case for CSR to the C Suite. The framework categorizes all CSR initiatives as striving to contribute to one of four objectives: increasing revenue, decreasing cost, improving brand reputation, or reducing risk. The revenue and cost objectives are near-term, while the brand and risk objectives are longer-term.
February 6th: the B Economy
The February 6 session of Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility was a new addition to the CCSR course this semester. The session featured guest speakers Kara Peck, Director of Business Development at B Lab; and Jessica Saba, Media Relations and Corporate Responsibility Manager for 1908 Brands. Kara and Jess introduced students to the B Economy, including Certified B Corps, Benefit Corporations, and the B Impact Assessment.
Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
Benefit corporations (sometimes called Public Benefit Corporations, or PBCs) are a new legal entity (like a C Corp or LLC), used to create a solid foundation for long term mission alignment and value creation. The Benefit corporation form protects mission through capital raises and leadership changes, creates more flexibility when evaluating potential sale and liquidity options, and prepares businesses to lead a mission-driven life post-IPO.
The B Impact Assessment (BIA) is a tool that provides a comprehensive and objective measure of a business’s positive impact on society and the environment. By answering a set of questions that reflect impact indicators, best practices, and outcomes, a company receives a composite score on a 200 point scale. The assessment is customized to each company based on size, industry, and geography.
Students logged into the BIA in class and explored the sections and questions with their own companies in mind.
March 20th: Diversity and Inclusion
The March 20 session focused on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) as a key element of any Corporate Social Responsibility program. Companies often pursue CSR because their leaders recognize the potential for business to function in a way that serves all stakeholders well, not only shareholders. Businesses can start by committing to a diverse and inclusive work environment, to create an economy that enables all people to thrive, now and in the future.
Students prepared by taking at least one assessment offered by Project Implicit, a non-profit organization whose goal is to educate the public about hidden (implicit) biases.
Demesha Hill, the Community Relations Manager for Janus Henderson Investors, was the guest speaker for this session. She is also the Managing Director of the Janus Henderson Foundation, and the Board Chair for B:Civic.
Drawing on data from McKinsey and others, Demesha made the business case for a strong D&I program. She talked about diversity in the customer base of most businesses, and how women and people of color now influence the majority of spending decisions. She provided data showing that companies who pursue gender and racial diversity consistently outperform those who don't, in terms of both revenue growth and profit.
One of Demesha's key points was that, while gender and race are important aspects of diversity, they are far from the only kinds of diversity that matter. Sexual orientation and gender expression, difference in abilities, age and many other characteristics of people are relevant when we think about creating a diverse team. She also emphasized that if we fail to consider the conditions and practices that foster inclusion, diversity efforts are much more likely to fail. She presented some of the practices that promote inclusion and lead to equity - conditions where everyone can thrive.
D&I will be covered again in the fall 2019 cohort, which is open for admission and registration now.