2022 Virtual Conference Recap: Bolder, systemic movements accelerate ESG progress

corporate citizenship and financial markets

Today, at the virtual International Corporate Citizenship Conference, attendees looked forward to another packed afternoon of best-practice sharing to improve their CSR programs.

Participants joined the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and convening sponsor Liberty Mutual in a hands-on virtual platform that enabled learning and networking with other professionals in the field. Eager to learn, attendees dove into another busy agenda that explored the systemic trends and landscape in which corporate citizenship professionals must operate and succeed.

Tickets to the in-person conference in Boston on April 24-26 are still available, and will include access to all the recordings from the virtual event—there’s still time to register!

Signal from the noise: The role of corporate citizenship in financial markets

The first session of the day provided a compelling argument for corporate citizenship professionals to start building relationships with their investor relations departments, if they haven’t already. Once considered "non-financial," the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities at the center of CSR work are now influencing investors and their valuations of companies. 

In this panel, Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Executive Director Katherine V. Smith; Nelmara Arbex, partner, KPMG Brazil; Evan Harvey, global head of sustainability at Nasdaq; and R. Paul Herman, CEO of HIP Investor, unpacked emerging ESG trends and explored how corporate citizenship professionals can play an active role in helping markets discern “greenwashing” from meaningful impact.

The panel opened with a pressing example of the “E” aspect of ESG, with a reminder that a healthy planet is necessary for sustained and successful business operations. Smith shared a NASA visualization of increasing temperatures over the past century to emphasize the point that the climate is changing. Arbex also shared a recent report from Swiss Re which finds climate change may result in a 10% of loss in the global economy, especially when taking into account property damage and insurance losses from extreme temperatures and weather events. 

Herman underscored the impacts of ESG issues such as climate change on business value and therefore financial markets. “Today, 90% of value in the average company in the S&P 500 is what accountants call ‘intangible.’ Major drivers of that intangible value are human capital, environmental capital, and trust in your business,” he said. “People, planet, and trust are big influences on how you can create value for your enterprise and for society, and how you can mitigate risk.”

"Don't be afraid to find ways to measure the unmeasurable," said Harvey, referring to metrics around diversity and inclusion, workplace culture, and other ESG indicators. "They will help you in all kinds of business conversations when you confront skeptical voices in the room about how much this work matters. The more you can put the argument in terms of operations, risk reduction, and profit enhancement, the better off you'll be."

“Metrics need to be well-defined, so investors and other stakeholders can compare in different contexts, sectors, and industries,” added Arbex, who also touched on the complexities of the current landscape in which companies report ESG metrics using various voluntary frameworks. “It is a challenge to compare when we have too many indicators that can be reported (or not) by choice. I hope the current movement will lead us to a more clear and global standard, so that companies will really know what to report.”

Arbex was referring to the trend of regulators across the globe laying groundwork for increased ESG reporting requirements for corporations, including an imminent new ruling from the SEC to require climate disclosures for companies based in the U.S. “We have never been so close to having mandatory disclosure regulations as we are today,” Arbex said. 

According to the Center’s new State of Corporate Citizenship 2022 study, a majority of executives in large companies say that their firm already releases a report covering the ESG aspects of business. The study also finds that as customers and employees demand stronger ESG action on behalf of companies, investors have emerged as just if not more vocal on DEI, transparency and disclosure, and reporting frameworks.

Buzzing with this essential context, event participants went on to discuss its implications in the virtual networking break before interactive afternoon breakout sessions.

Ensuring diverse stakeholders are heard and included

Moving on to breakout sessions, attendees had their pick of practical content, including the panel, “From Woodstock to TikTok: Engaging socially conscious employees across generations.” With a more age-diverse workforce than ever, attendees heard about how firms have responded to changing demographics among employees and used corporate citizenship to bridge generational divides. This panel featured Elena Sacca Smith of Toyota North America, Ellen Rossi of EQT Corporation, Kenzie Ferguson of Delta Dental of California, and Gary Levante of Berkshire Bank.

“Potentially we have five generations of workers together in the same organization. Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse of the generations and also the largest,” opened Sacca Smith. “We really need to be thinking and rethinking how we engage our employees in our various citizenship programs from ERGs to employee volunteering.”

Attendees also joined today’s Lead and Learn Case Study, in which Fidelity Investments conveyed lessons learned from repositioning philanthropic strategy around racial equity and inclusion. Attendees heard first from Pamela Everhart, senior vice president, regional public affairs, and community relations at Fidelity Investments, who contextualized the urgency of the strategic pivot.

“The year 2020 shone a light on systemic inequalities that disproportionately impact communities of color,” said Everhart. “To understand and help address these critical needs, we paused to take a deeper look at our own community relations efforts—and most importantly, listen to our nonprofit partners—especially those engaged in the work of social justice and equality.”

Everhart then invited on the Fidelity colleagues involved in the change—Teresa Pelletier, Jamal Stockton, and Megan Wolfer—who were joined by local community partner Truong Nguyen, who leads Youth Guidance’s Becoming a Man program in Boston. “We partner with communities that know their needs best and build relationships with nonprofits based on transparency and mutual learning,” said Pelletier, vice president of community relations at Fidelity. “We also know that when a community needs change, we must change with it.”

“We had to focus as much on unlearning as learning,” said Wolfer, who is director of community relations. She described that the change process took place in three steps: (1) Listening and learning, internally with employees and externally with more than 60 nonprofit partners, (2) refocusing goals and restructuring teams around new focus areas, and (3) activating employees beyond traditional volunteering to engage in mentoring and other actions to support underserved populations. 

"Relationships are key to everything in our success, both internally and externally, in terms of being able to quickly leverage resources in support of this new strategy," Wolfer concluded. From a partner perspective, Nguyen enthusiastically agreed that listening to diverse stakeholders is key, as their challenges are layered and span across sectors.

Fidelity also took the opportunity to integrate its new community engagement focus into its customer inclusion efforts as well. Stockton, who is head of customer inclusion at Fidelity, pointed out that demographics among multiracial, LGBTQ+, and other populations are growing quickly in the United States. “We have to meet people where they are, and understand how their values and culture drive their needs,” said Stockton. “We also need to understand what the economics look like: These are trillion-dollar markets that we're dealing with.”

With these inspiring words, attendees closed down for the day and looked forward to a final opportunity to learn and network with peers the following morning on Day 3 of the virtual International Corporate Citizenship Conference.

We’re blogging throughout the 2022 International Corporate Citizenship Conference to give you daily recaps and deep dives into the event’s unique content. Participate in the conversation using #BCConf22. Visit the Corporate Citizenship Perspectives Blog to read all the recaps.