In the 1990s, when the internet shook up the business world, companies of all sizes responded by adding extra-big windowed offices for their Chief Information Officers-not that anyone knew what a Chief Information Officer was yet. Now that environmental sustainability and social responsibility are household buzzwords, another renovation is under way in corporate C-Suites: Enter the Chief Responsibility Officer. GOOD decided to look into how this increasingly crucial, often nebulous, and in no way standardized new executive job is evolving in different industries.It turns out, not all CSR efforts hold much water. And according to the CSR executive we talked to, there's an easy way to tell how seriously a company takes its new mission: CEO buy-in. "Unless you have the CEO closely involved, it's not going to work. Except on the level of rhetoric," says John Elkington, founder of the pioneering CSR consultancy SustainAbility. (He's the one who invented the phrase "triple bottom line" back in the 1990s, way before it was cool.) "Without CEO buy-in," he says, "the [Corporate Responsibility Officer] just doesn't have much room to work in." To be fair, just buying into an idea doesn't guarantee transformative results. And most of these companies have a long way to go. But the higher the level of CEO buy-in, the more likely it is that CSR can become as indispensable as H.R. or I.T. and that it will improve the market for everyone.
The Gap Inc. (Banana Republic, Old Navy, etc.)Who's in charge of CSR: Dan Henkle, Senior VP Social ResponsibilityReports to: Executive VP Human Resources, Corporate Communications, and Social ResponsibilityCEO buy-in: UnclearThings they boast about: To improve working conditions in subcontracted factories, Gap worked with NGOs tochange the way 650 supervisors in seven Cambodian factories approached their jobs. It's classic skills-building and employee education, but it's not common to do for subcontractors. Gap is now ramping up the program to other factories.
NikeWho's in charge of CSR: Hannah Jones, VP Corporate ResponsibilityReports to: CEOCEO buy-in: HighThings they boast about: Since redesigning its CSR strategy in 2006, Nike has begun mapping its environmental footprint and the cost of that impact. It has set some ambitious targets that go beyond brand-protecting rhetoric to integrate sustainability and fair labor into the business plan. These include climate-neutral facilities by 2011; unionization education in all contract factories; and a 22 percent increase in environmentally friendly materials use in footwear products.
PatagoniaWho's in charge of CSR:Nicole Basset, Social Responsibility ManagerReports to: VP ProductionCEO buy-in: Very highThings they boast about: Patagonia is inspecting every step in the supply chain, from labor standards to chemicals in the dyes to how the geese supplying down feathers (and their farmers) are treated. The data gathering has led to a few changes on the products the company has mapped, but mostly it's just saying, "Here's what you're buying, where it came from and who made it." Then you decide if you want it.
Sears Holding Co. (Sears, Kmart)Who's in charge of CSR:Cause Marketing TeamReports to: Marketing DepartmentCEO buy-in: LowThings they boast about:Sears/Kmart focuses its efforts on its own employees and cause marketing. Through partnerships with a nonprofits, Sears hopes to repair or rebuild the homes of 300 financially strained military servicemen and -women each year. Employees called into service also get 60 months of pay differential, job security, and benefits for five years so they won't lose income while serving.
TargetWho's in charge of CSR: Split six ways among Laysha Ward, President Community Relations and Target Foundation; Nate Garvis, VP Government Affairs; Susan Kahn, Senior VP, Communications; and co-leaders of Target's sustainability efforts Michael Alexin, VP Product Design and Development; and Scott Nelson, senior VP Real EstateReports to: CEOCEO buy-in: ModerateThings they boast about: Though Target makes some effort to encourage sustainable product design, their major CSR focus is on philanthropy. Customers can allocate 1 percent of their Target credit-card spending to any school of their choice and the company gives 5 percent of its pre-tax profit to charity.
ABC Carpet and HomeWho's in charge of CSR: Amy Chender, VP Social ResponsibilityReports to: CEO/Co-founderCEO buy-in: Very HighThings they boast about:ABC sells more than 650 pieces of furniture made entirely from sustainable, recycled, reclaimed, and salvaged wood, as well as responsibly mined jewelry. They also offer nearly 30 "Gifts of Compassion," whereby you can, say, pay for nine months of education for an Afghan girl in your friend's name.
The Clorox Company (Clorox, Brita, Glad etc.)Who's in charge: Bill Morrissey, VP of Environmental SustainabilityReports to: UnclearCEO buy-in: ModerateThings they boast about: Earlier this year Clorox released Green Works, a line of seven natural, biodegradable cleaners made with plant-based ingredients (apparently coconuts are good for greasy pans). It has also inventoried the carbon emissions from its North American plants as a first step in greening its production.
SC Johnson (Drano, Raid, Zip-Loc, etc.)Who's in charge: Patricia Penman, Director, Global Environmental & Safety ActionsReports to: Executive VP Worldwide Corporate and Environmental AffairsCEO buy-in: HighThings they boast about: As a family-owned company, SCJ has arguably been more able to implement values-driven decisions. Fifty years ago, it was a leader in cleaning up aerosol. Since 2001, the company has used what it calls the Greenlist process to classify raw materials according to environmental and health impact. This lets scientists and product designers integrate sustainability and health effects when making up that big spray (even if it still has some nasty chemicals in it).
Seventh GenerationWho's in charge: Gregor Barnum, Director of Corporate ConsciousnessReports to: CFOCEO buy-in: Very highThings they boast about: Seventh Generation has a deeply integrated approach to CSR. Guided by "Global Imperatives" set out by the founders, each employee is expected to integrate eco and social consciousness into the products. For instance, Barnum said he wants to push Seventh Gen beyond making less-bad products, to making products that actually do good-so instead of a nontoxic kitchen cleaner, he wants to make one that actually removes the toxins left on your counter from other products.Illustrations by Damien Correll