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Thoughts for the C-suite: environmental and social shifts

Published by CME Manitoba on November 09, 2017

By Kevin Lusk, CME Advanced Manufacturing & Senior Executive Leadership Champion


More and more manufacturing owners are connecting the dots and realizing that environmental sustainability and social shifts increasingly require more awareness and more thought by the C-Suite occupant. Now, included in the need to balance profitability – along with increased regulation, protecting the brand, ensuring stable supply chains and seeking performance edges – we now must add environmental awareness and sustainability. Your leadership and values, how you build public trust, has now become a crucial part of your corporate value proposition. As for you directly, C-Suite occupant: people are watching you as much as they are watching your company and products. Indeed, the times are changing. Don’t believe me? Consider the following recent events:


When President Trump backed away from the Paris Climate Accord, several CEOs denounced his actions. In fact, two exceptionally powerful CEOs – Disney’s Bob Iger and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX – resigned from his most senior advisory council. Need more? In the wake of Trump’s unwillingness to unequivocally condemn hate and bigotry, many more CEOs voiced their intense disagreement with the president including Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. Eight more CEO’s resigned from other advisory councils. 


You might ask, what does the US president’s issue have to do with my company in Manitoba, Canada? Everything, because you and your company are global contributors to the environment and to social change. The lines are being drawn. In recent times, environmentalists and other organizations have exerted targeted pressure on corporations at all levels. As a result, there has been an awakening among CEOs globally on the importance of corporate governance regarding environmental and also social issues. But the question remains, why are CEOs now willing to talk about climate change and social issues? What has happened that CEOs are willing to publicly rebuke powers like a U.S. president, whose actions and words run counter to solving the climate problem and embracing human rights? Here are a few thoughts to consider:


Thought #1

It’s just plain good business. According to a Price Waterhouse Coopers Canadian study, 88 per cent of all employees want to work for a socially responsible organization. People care about these issues. Increasingly, that translates into how they spend their money. More and more people want to be seen as someone who buys/uses environmentally friendly products and services. Buying from companies that profile their willingness to be seen as doing the right thing for people and the planet, is, as stated, just good business.


Thought #2

Planning to hire new employees, either with new entrants to the workplace or experienced, older employees in the future? According to the OXYGENZ Global Workplace Innovation Study, 98 per cent of 26-35-year-olds would prefer to work in an environmentally responsible workplace.  A couple of years ago, LinkedIn presented polling results at the Sustainable Brands conference around the importance of working for a purpose-driven company. While working for a company with a strong sense of purpose mattered the most to Baby Boomers – it matters even more so than Millennials. Many in the study indicated that sense of purpose mattered more to them than salary and benefits.


Thought #3

As you sit in that C-Suite you know you won’t be sitting there forever. By anecdotal evidence, in asking CEOs what they want to be remembered for, the most common answer is often surprising. While extremely important, it’s usually not about how much money they made for the company; but that they’ve made a difference in people’s lives and the environment. It’s no secret that Canadians have strong emotional ties to our spectacular natural environment. Just ask Trans Canada Pipe about trying to get everyone onboard in shipping Alberta oil to the east coast. On key environmental and human rights issues many CEO’s are increasingly asking themselves the question, “How do I want to be remembered here – as being on the right side or wrong side of this issue?” Obviously and C-Suite occupant would prefer to be remembered as being on the right side of history – as a person who took a stand when it mattered.


Thought #4

The paradox. Despite the need for short-term thinking to keep those profits rolling in in order to keep the proverbial wheels on the baby buggy, I have as yet to meet one C-Suite occupant who doesn’t want his or her company to do what’s right when it comes to the environment and the social issues inside their own companies. Increasingly the pressure is on all corporations from outside forces – be they environmental groups or social change advocates – to fix the problem. At the same time, most C-Suite occupants feel powerless to really affect any real environmental and social change beyond their limited scope.    


No, we’re not the States. But we too have our environmental challenges and our social issues. Like your counterparts south of the border, as Canadian CEOs you too have choices. You can ignore the fact that Canada too is changing. Or, as small a contribution as you think it might make, you might consider putting in place corporate governance and policies effecting these issues within your control. Or, you can dismiss these issues as a waste of C-Suite time and do nothing. That choice is yours.  


CME’s Energy and Environment Committee is made up of manufacturers and service providers who meets regularly to focuses on environmental issues; many of which are driven or impacted by changing social values. Perhaps it’s time to join it. 

CME also offers strategic support at the executive leadership level through a variety of programs and services. From Manufacturers' Executive Councils and Export Executive Councils to Enhanced Executive Advisory Services that include customized support and one-on-one coaching tailored to your business - owners and CEOs can benefit from the oustide perspective through the eyes of their peers along with seasoned business leaders.

Learn more today. Contact: 


Found in: Executive Manufacturing Competitiveness

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