Taking Corporate Social Responsibility beyond company borders to affect positive change

I recently had a conversation with a fellow team member on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and corporate culture.  He mentioned some interesting information listed on Industry Canada, so I went to their site and found some thought-provoking statementCartoon_CSRs.

Industry Canada says that a company moves into a leadership position when it begins to work to affect change beyond its borders.  This led me to reflect upon my time at TELUS as a member of the corporate social responsibility team: what is the impact we have had – both within and beyond our borders? After all, TELUS’ brand promise is the ‘Future is Friendly’.  Have we made change beyond our borders from an environmental perspective?

Sustainability requires changes in behaviour and in mindsets; business is best positioned to lead when it creates a culture that expects and anticipates change

Change in any large organization can be frustratingly slow; however at TELUS, rarely, if ever, have I presented an idea and had a senior leader respond with an immediate no. Maybe it’s the privilege of being on an internal team that is encouraged to drive change.

Yet it is more than that.  At TELUS, our culture is such that we expect and, where we can, we anticipate change.  The CSR team works with many other groups within TELUS, and while we often get challenged, it’s rare that the door is shut completely. Most often, we are asked to “make the business case.”  Although the business case in terms of dollars can be difficult to frame when we are talking about sustainability issues, we always try to “make the business case and the sustainability case.”

The true essence of sustainability is to ensure future generations have what they need. Unless we “make the sustainability case” hand in glove with the business case, we can’t truly be sustainable.  I’d say that this is key for us to make change beyond our borders. While many people in business truly want to do something, they are challenged to know how to do so when they work within a conventional return on investment model.

Leadership from the top is essential for any sustainability initiative to succeed, since it provides direction from the place where decision-making is expected

When I became a team member in 2008, it was so clear to me what needed to be done, immediately! However, I quickly learned that change does not happen overnight in a large company. I’ve seen our leadership culture evolve a lot since then. In fact, last year our CEO, Darren Entwistle, included TELUS’ 10-year climate change targets in his personal performance objectives (PPO). This is a first for TELUS and reflects a major cultural shift and dedication to sustainability.

We are finding meeting these targets very challenging. As it may likely show up as an objective “not met” in our CEO’s PPO (which is tied to his compensation) this year, there will be no doubt some very serious discussion on how to reach our targets. This has the potential to lead to major leadership and innovation for a Canadian telecom.

An encouraging fact about CSR and sustainability is that failing to meet a challenging objective in the short term is not a true failure. Analyzing why it’s failing and taking action to remedy it can help reframe it as a success. However, if you simply to do nothing and abandon the objective, that’s when reputational risk becomes an issue and your leadership position diminishes.  This is also when CSR stops impacting corporate culture and your sphere of influence beyond your borders is diminished.  Luckily, most of us involved in CSR have a hard time taking no for an answer!

This is my first blog posting but I plan to post monthly on CSR topics. If you have suggestions or questions, please comment below, and we’ll do our best to address.

Best regards,

Dom Repta