You will soon find that no corporate board will hire a CEO or elect a new board member who doesn't have experience in environmental sustainability and social issues. Why would I say this? And where would a corporate person gain personal experience in environmental and social issues?
Sustainability and CSR are moving onto CEO and board agendas
There are clear signs that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not only on the CEO's agenda, but it's also moving onto the board of director's agenda. Already, 65% of the Standard & Poor's 100 companies have board committees with oversight of corporate responsibility issues. This information, from a new study from Calvert Investments and The Corporate Library, also indicates that "many investors have come to believe that these issues [environmental and social] have implications for capital investments, corporate strategy, brand, and reputation." Among the study's key findings and recommendations to investors is "to urge companies of all sizes to establish oversight of environmental and social issues."
Further evidence of corporations focusing on sustainability comes from the new book, Sustainable Excellence. Authors Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell tell the story "of how sustainability is now front and center when many companies make the most important decisions about their futures." Their examples include Nike, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Walmart, IBM, Clorox, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Ford, Unilever, and many others. Cramer is President & CEO of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), serving 250 member companies seeking to develop sustainable strategies and solutions.
Additionally, over 600 business leaders were among the 1,000 global leaders who participated in last month's Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Sixth Annual Meeting; the pre-requisite for companies to attend CGI is making a significant Commitment to Action. For companies, that means a sizable financial commitment—often in the millions and tens of millions of dollars—via partnerships with NGOs and possibly other funders. Having interviewed heads of companies, corporate foundations, and senior vice presidents for CSR, I can attest to many deep and long term corporate engagements. Many were returning for their third and fourth years, such as Maria Eitel, President, Nike Foundation. Others I met with were first timers who were planning for the long term; one was Bill Hawkins, Chairman and CEO, Medtronic.
The emergence of environmental and social issues on corporate board agendas is a recent phenomenon. Company leaders are recognizing that in order to build shareholder value, they must concern themselves with the longer term availability and affordability of renewable resources; the public's perception of their brand; and opportunities to develop new markets in developing countries. These goals require collaboration with NGOs and governments.
Nonprofit boards provide unique experiential learning opportunities for corporate executives on environmental and social issues
As a business executive, while you are building your career, you can also be developing your knowledge, experience, expertise, relationships, and credibility in environmental and social issues through nonprofit board experience. Board participation can be highly meaningful and productive for you and the organization you serve.
Moreover, through nonprofit boards, you will also gain the benefit of engaging with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to advance a mission that you care about—whether it's helping to provide access to water to people in developing countries; land use rights to women and girls in India; access to financial services through mobile phones for people in remote villages in Africa; reuniting refugee families; supportive housing to homeless veterans here in the U.S.; educational opportunities for underserved kids; or workforce development.
Nonprofit boards provide unique learning opportunities for business executives in a broad range of fields such as renewable energy, global poverty, human rights, health care, education, housing, land use, microfinance, and refugee rights, among many other issues. Not only can business executives gain experience on vital issues through service on two or three boards by the time they are in their mid-40's, but they can also ascend to board leadership positions—from committee chair to officers and even board chair—by adding value, and developing and demonstrating leadership skills.
Additionally, corporate executives who encourage their management teams to serve on boards can also advance the group's learning about environmental and social issues, and leadership development by facilitating discussions for sharing.
Nonprofit board service is the ultimate experience in ethics, accountability, leadership, group dynamics, and crisis management and communications. You can develop yourself as a business leader and contribute to the community at the same time.