Sparking Change: 6 Ways to Work in CSR & Express Your Values at Work

How can you weave CSR and/or sustainability into your current responsibilities, whether you work in supply chain, HR, facilities, marketing, finance or operations?

Submitted by:Tim Mohin

Posted:Oct 25, 2012 – 04:53 PM EST

Tags:career advicecsr jobscareers in csrcareers in sustainabilityleadership,traininghrcsrwork culture

Tim_mohinBy Tim MohinEditor’s Note: Tim Mohin’s new book Changing Business From the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations has been heralded as “the ultimate insider’s guide, from someone who has been at the front lines of corporate change-making at some of the world’s biggest companies,” and an “essential reading for anyone who wants to build a meaningful career.”Because of an enthusiastic response to a recent news release introducing the book – with multiple queries coming in and shares aCSRoss social media channels – Mohin has agreed to answer some of the questions he received from CSRwire readers and the students of the Applied Corporate Responsibility Class at Harvard University, one of the first cohorts to read the book, in a blog series on Talkback.

Through these blogs, Mohin will attempt to demystify the field of CSR and sustainability and offer bite size tips and lessons from his experience for current and aspiring CSR professionals.

In part 4, he takes a question from Stephanie Zhaozhe:

In the book, you say: “Any person at any level can be the spark that ignites the next great corporate responsibility program.” How can you engage employees from ground up, and what kind of platform can you provide them so they can confidently contribute ideas in corporate responsibility?

I use the phrase “lead from wherever you stand” in the book to communicate the notion that anyone at any level can have an impact on corporate responsibility. When you step back and think about the “lead from where you stand” paradigm, it has implications beyond CSR. All great leaders started out in lower level jobs and learned how to demonstrate their leadership potential from these roles.

You may find yourself in a job where you have limited authority or influence over CSR issues. Rather than feel trapped by your position, here are a few tips to express your values at work:

1. Do Your Research & Know the Key Leaders

Meet with company leaders to understand their issues and problems using the open-ended question employee training and leadershiptechnique discussed in the book. Study the best CSR practices of other companies in your industry and summarize the data. Offer to help in developing any new policies, programs, or practices if gaps are identified.

2. Training Programs

Work with your management and HR department to develop training programs for employees on sustainability and CSR issues. (Northwest Earth Institute provides wonderful training courses at very low prices).

3. Employee Resource Groups & Green Teams

Start or join a green team at work to bring together like-minded employees.  Green teams are great at brainstorming sustainability suggestions for the company and following up with the manpower to get the work done. 

4. Make it Obvious That You Are a CSR Champion

Make contact with the CSR leader in your company and express your interest. Seek to understand their goals and priorities and explore specific areas where you might be able to help. It is a huge benefit to the CSR manager to know that they have an ally and champion in another department.

5. Motivate through Recognition

Recognition is a powerful tool to motivate sustainability behaviors. If your company already has a CSR-related award, you could work on a nomination. If there is no such award, work with the appropriate departments to establish one.  Recognition of sustainability actions motivates people from across the corporation to be innovative in driving sustainability into their day jobs.

6. Stay Curious

Above all, be curious and adopt the attitude of a lifelong learner. If you are the person who is always interested in how to do things better, an innovator, and a problem solver, you will get noticed andstay curiouspromoted. This is the opposite of just completing the work assigned. It’s doing a good job on everything in your scope as well as suggesting new ways of doing business.

Yes, most of these tips require additional work and, in some cases, you may not have the bandwidth.  But, with patience and persistence you can usually carve out the time needed to contribute to CSR in your company.

If you are pressed for time (who isn’t?) a particularly useful tactic is to weave CSR and/or sustainability into your current responsibilities. For example:

  • supply manager can work CSR into the evaluation of the organization’s new and existing suppliers;
  • compensation manager can include socially screened investment options in the company’s 401(k) plan;
  • marketing manager can develop environmental messages for corporate or product advertising;
  • facilities manager can bring in locally grown organic food choices (or a community supported agriculture co-op) into the company cafeteria;
  • facilities manager can select compostable products and starting a composting program in the company cafeteria;
  • packaging engineer can develop smaller product packages made from recycled materials;
  • An HR manager can suggest and drive new diversity and inclusion programs embedded with volunteerism and community involvement.

This list could go on and on because there are opportunities to express CSR in just about every corporate role.  Going the extra mile to help solve a problem is not only a rewarding experience, it will also demonstrate your commitment to the workplace and showcase your leadership abilities. And as we all know now, we are in sore need of empowered individual leadership.