· Panel: Cynthia Curtis, Chief Sustainability Officer, CA
· Kathrin Winkler, Chief Sustainability Officer, EMC
· Margot Sfier, Senior Exec., Social Responsibility, J Crew
· John Davies, VP & Senior Analyst, GreenBiz Group (moderator)
To kick-off the conversation about sustainability from a marketing perspective, moderator John Davies, VP and senior analyst with GreenBiz Group, asked the panelists to define sustainability.
Kathrin Winkler of EMC responded by stating that there are different definitions and different perspectives depending on the organization’s audiences. “If you’re really laser-focused on the traditional business definition of creating economic value for your shareholders, then sustainability is about mitigating risk and leveraging opportunities,” she said. “But if your purpose is broader than just making money, it can be about a lot more.”
According to Cynthia Curtis of CA, energy and innovation is material to CA’s business, so they look at sustainability to help drive innovation and be more energy efficient. “We look at it as a business driver and competitive differentiator,” she said.
Margot Sfier of J Crew explained that sustainability and social responsibility originated responsible sourcing. “The risk associated with the supply chain is no secret, so monitoring the factories that manufacture our project, and improving the conditions there is very important.”
Margot continued to explain that sustainability at J Crew has two main functions: responsible sourcing which has expanded to include the environment because –
1. It’s the right thing to do,
2. It protects & enhances brand image, and
3. Our stakeholders all care about it.
The scope of sustainability is not just about being green or about being philanthropic. It’s more about the brand, externally and internally. And it’s very different from marketing products and services.
What guides the conversation with marketing? The panelists were unanimous in their recommendations: be transparent but don’t brag, be honest and forthcoming.
Margot added that J Crew were slow to launch its social responsibility website in 2010. They wanted to get it as right as possible. “Our factories are not perfect,” she said, “but we want to share what we’re doing well and also where our challenges are.”
Is sustainability becoming table stakes? Or is it about brand purpose?
Kathrin responded by saying that “Some companies are more mission-driven or purpose-driven, but asking the question is calling out risk versus opportunity. Risk management is the table stakes. But a company who isn’t thinking about the opportunity is potentially missing out.”
“If you’re in a B2B business, you’re somewhere in the supply chain, and your customers are monitoring and auditing you,” added Kathrin.
Kathrin also shared a quote she had heard only the night before attending a speech by former President Bill Clinton: “How we do what we do is as important as what we do.”