Second Annual Businesswomen’s Sustainability Leadership Summit

September 29, 2005

“Second Annual Businesswomen’s Sustainability Leadership Summit”

Presented by the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future with Catalyst


The Second Annual Businesswomen’s Sustainability Leadership Summit, presented by the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future, was based on the strength of one unifying theme, “Making a Difference.” Established on key sustainability principles identified at the inaugural Summit in 2004—integrity, diversity, environment and community engagement—the event offered executive women a unique forum in which to exchange best practices and co-create tools for leadership on corporate responsibility and sustainability.

The Summit offered women business leaders the chance to network and meet others with shared interests from various companies and in other industries, and to learn about experiences and best practices that have influenced business responsibility and sustainability. In a plenary conversation, as well as breakout sessions on four aspects of the business of making a difference, attendees discussed the importance of linking good citizenship to company performance, and securing the interest of the company in the long run.

Attendees were welcomed by Michelle R. Ferguson, Senior Vice President of Real Estate and Human Resources Services for The McGraw-Hill Companies, who has been responsible for setting a global design standard for the company’s work environment. Ms. Ferguson has been heavily involved in the development of a companywide women’s initiative, and she encouraged attendees to take advantage of the networking possibilities throughout the day to help build relationships centered on advancing the cause of sustainability.

Keynote speaker Terri Ludwig, President of Merrill Lynch Community Development Company (CDC), echoed that advice. She went on to explain how she developed the CDC business philosophy, based on a double bottom line approach that measures both social and financial impact of investments. After taking the audience through a journey of personal and professional challenges and successes from kindergarten to Wall Street, Ms. Ludwig spoke of her passion to make a difference in the lives of the poverty-stricken and their communities, which eventually led her to work in the field of micro-lending, where she had the opportunity to help struggling women build businesses. She encouraged the audience to step back, discover their passion, and use that passion to help create a much kinder and sustainable world.

The Business of Making a Difference

The Community breakout session called “Can’t We All Just Get Along? A Stakeholders’ Dialogue,” moderated by WNSF Board member, Michele Kahane, included:

  • Anita Roper, Director of Sustainability at Alcoa, who talked about how harnessing the company’s values, resources, processes and products, Alcoa can simultaneously achieve financial, environmental and social responsibility success, partly through partnerships. Stakeholders now want and expect to be included in co-developing processes that will protect the community and lead it toward a sustainable future.
  • Assheton Steward Carter, Senior Director of Strategic Planning, Energy and Mining at the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business at Conservation International talked about the value of partnerships between leading companies such as Alcoa and NGO stakeholders in the area of conservation and introduced measures of success that help identify the value this brings to regions that are committed to developing positive initiatives.
  • As Director of Development for the National Council of Churches, John Briscoe works with Alcoa to open up a dialogue with local churches and encourage them to weigh in on community issues. While providing education between church issues and environmental issues, the partnership allows for a healthy outlook on the issue of sustainability.

Speakers in the Environment session, “Assets for Life: Water, Power, Health and Profit,” discussed the importance of sustainability in their companies and the challenges faced in making a difference:

  • Mary Jane Klocke, Director of North American Shareholder Marketing at BP said her company reaches out to the socially responsible investment community and aims to maximize shareholder value. The second largest energy company worldwide, BP is building trust and credibility by working on corporate citizenship initiatives globally. Its greatest challenge continues to be climate change; BP has been a leader on the issue since 1997 and is currently working on a project with Algerian company Sonotrac which captures CO2 from during the refining process and then and injects it into specially protected sites (CK).
  • Karen Flanders, Director of Sustainability at Coca-Cola, emphasized the importance of working on the issue of sustainability. “Damage to the brand equals damage to the business,” she explained. For Coca-Cola, being responsible creates value to both the business and the community. Current provisions include self-assessment tools used by bottlers and suppliers, operational performance standards and a supplier guiding principal program. Coca-Cola has chosen to take on the challenge of water preservation (three liters of water are used to produce each liter of Coca-Cola product) by building alliances with national programs to protect water resources.
  • Elizabeth C. Girardi-Shoen, Senior Director of Environment, Health and Safety, Strategic Partnerships & Planning at Pfizer, Inc., encourages corporate citizenship to reach the goal of sustainability. The major challenges faced by Pfizer are conservation and clean energy. Because waste is a byproduct of solvents used to make pharmaceutical products, Pfizer is working to reduce the amount of chemicals used, while increasing production by recycling solvents internally and/or externally.
  • Vanessa De Villez, Director of Sustainability at ConEdison, talked about the company’s efforts to improve the environment of communities it works in. ConEd currently creates labor-management committees to bring out best management practices and helps local businesses secure loans. The company’s greatest challenges are re-mediating former manufacturing sites contaminated with coal tar and reducing the amount of energy and gas used in production.

The speakers agreed that the greatest intangible value in promoting a healthy environment is preserving brand value. When asked what action they would like to see taken to boost the issue of social responsibility and sustainability on the corporate agenda, panelists pointed to the need for more guidelines to reduce, reuse or recycle materials and waste, and more innovative ways to use materials. They also mentioned that by using marketing muscle, companies can make these issues more appealing to corporate management.

The session entitled “Integrity: School for Scandal: Lessons of Corporate Fraud,” explored business ethics through a recounting of first-hand experience. The session featured WNSF Advisory Council member Noreen Harrington, Wall Street veteran and Managing Partner and CIO of Globalview Partners, who initiated the investigation into illegal practices in the mutual fund industry. Joining her in dialogue was David Brown, Chief of the Investment Protection Bureau of the New York Attorney General’s Office, who worked with Ms. Harrington to expose fraud in the industry. He explained the concept of late trading, and discussed how a failure of responsibility on the part of some traders, coupled by tolerance on the part of some mutual funds and hedge funds, eventually led to overcharging of investors. Ms. Harrington initially contacted the Attorney General’s office because she wanted to protect the industry’s reputation and believed she had an inherent responsibility to “say something.”

The speakers examined how to change the way people think and behave in regard to corporate ethics, agreeing on steps that need to be taken, including:

  • Passing new laws, because as long as fraud is profitable, it is likely to exist.
  • Encouraging Boards of Directors to be responsive towards shareholders.
  • Encourage corporate responsibility.

Mr. Brown concluded that ethics must prevail in business because, “If you don’t have a mass belief that the system works, you will see incredible damage.”

The Diversity session, “Building Success: Women and Entrepreneurship,” introduced three female entrepreneurs who built new businesses with a socially responsible base, though not always consciously or deliberately. The session was moderated by Joyce LaValle, WNSF Board Member and Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Interface Americas, a carpet company that has become a world-renowned leader in sustainability.

  • Tanya Rynd, co-founder of Superfine, spoke of her restaurant and bar based in Brooklyn, which she conceived, designed, and built with two women partners, Laura Taylor and Cara Lee Sparry. Superfine incorporates local art, music, design and performance in an active forum for collaboration in the arts-based local Brooklyn community known as Dumbo. The entrepreneurs are committed to the ideal of sustainable agriculture, changing the menu each day reflecting the availability of only the freshest ingredients. The chefs use organic poultry and pork and grass-fed beef. The seasonal produce is organic and comes, whenever possible, from local farmers. By remaining committed to the health of the planet and the health of the community, Superfine creates a unique dining experience, as well as a loyal customer base.
  • Crystal Mario, President of Rivanna Natural Designs, Inc., founded the company on one central operating principle: in its every aspect, the company’s work must reflect its strong obligation to clients, coworkers, community, and the environment. Rivanna is a leading provider of environmentally responsible corporate gifts and awards with clients in 34 states and Canada. Working with the Charlottesville, N.C., office of the International Rescue Committee, Rivanna hires and trains recently arrived refugees, most of whom are women. In addition, a portion of Rivanna’s profits is set aside for the purchase of books and other resource materials for the company’s Learning Center, which offers English-as-a-Second Language and basic computer skills to refugee-workers. Employees craft products from recycled materials or sustainably-harvested forest products.
  • Rebecca Steinman, Owner and Co-Founder of Quist Industries, Ltd., a full service screen printing, embroidery, & garment finishing company, explained how Quist did not begin with a social vision, but progressed into social consciousness when it moved its offices to Red Hook, Brooklyn. The area had been economically depressed for a few decades, and Quist wanted to contribute to the sense of community that was developing in the area. Quist began to work closely with the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corp. to solicit resumes of local residents as they began the hiring process. It became immediately apparent that there was an opportunity to be part of the fabric of the area and that business was vital to the progress of the community. Quist continues to stay active in the community by bartering with local small business and working with nonprofits, as well as enforcing ethical business practices and social awareness. Quist ensures that materials it uses are re-used and recycled and that only non-toxic (CK) chemicals are used. Ms. Steinman believes that as an environmentally friendly company, Quist is responsible for putting into effect its standards of sustainable business.

Eileen Fisher Award Presentation

WNSF honored Eileen Fisher, entrepreneur and advocate of women, with the first Businesswomen’s Sustainability Leadership Award. In building her renowned business, Ms. Fisher has continued to aim for the highest standards of social responsibility, including:

  • Advocating high labor standards for the women who work in the Chinese factories where the clothes of Eileen Fisher, Inc. are manufactured;
  • Philanthropic programs for disadvantaged women and women entrepreneurs and;
  • Developing new commitments to social and environmental responsibility throughout the company’s operations.

In honoring Eileen Fisher with the award (donated by Rivanna Natural Designs, Inc.), WNSF recognized her exceptional contribution as a pioneering businesswoman and as a role model for businesswomen everywhere. Her courage and success in identifying what matters to women, her tireless advocacy of women in the many aspects of their lives, and her championship in her own company of business social responsibility in its many forms, all reflect what WNSF promotes as an organization and through the award.

Executive Women as a Force for Change

Ann Goodman presented attendees with results of a survey conducted jointly with the UK firm Aspire that explored what making a difference means to executive women. Survey respondents included women in management positions across a range of functions, from a wide spectrum of industry sectors, who were in their prime earning years. Some key results of the survey include:

  • 57% of women surveyed said they want to influence the world outside the market place compared to 25% who want to make an impact solely on their company
  • 92% of women expect business to make a difference in the world, stating it is “important” or “very important”
  • 80% of women want their companies to offer more opportunities to make a difference
  • 95% of women answered “important” or “very important” to supporting labor and human rights practices as CSR activities that makes a difference.
  • 73% of women are making a difference through their personal efforts or with like-minded colleagues

Such results indicate that executive women want business to make a difference and want business to give them the opportunity to make a difference.

Plenary Panel: Executive Women Making a Difference

Following the survey results, a plenary panel of executive women exchanged discussed the importance of making a difference throughout their careers. The panel included:

Sheila Wellington, moderator, Clinical Professor of Management, NYU Stern School of Business and former President of Catalyst
Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, Director, Interface, Inc. and longtime advocate of sustainability and women’s rights through numerous nonprofit organizations
Morag Watson, Vice President of Digital and Communications Technology, BP
Pamela I. Anderson, Managing Director, JP Morgan Private Bank

The panelists agreed that making a difference means helping others achieve their potential. Ms. Watson said that we must share whatever is learned, helping others learn from our experiences. At a time when the world is becoming more diverse and constantly changing how it does business, “companies have to look more like the world to be profitable,” said Ms. Anderson. She also mentioned a study done by Catalyst that showed a positive correlation between women in leadership and return on investments.

Each speaker stressed the professional advantages of networking and Ms. Dillon -Ridgley encouraged attendees to be aggressive and proactive to gather people into their lives. Ms. Anderson pointed out that men network more easily than women and that we must develop the skill of getting to know each other.

Each panelist left attendees with key take away points to incorporate into making a difference within their companies and their lives:

  • There is no set definition of sustainability. Each company must find its own definition and then design programs around it
  • There is both tangible and intangible value to companies in encouraging sustainability
  • Executive women should develop professional intimacy, going beyond the comfort zone
  • There are numerous ways to make a difference at work and to encourage companies to do so
  • Being a mentor or a reverse mentor can help executive women make a difference
  • Networking is essential in making a difference

Concluding Plenary Address

The summit ended with a motivating closing address by Sanna Lindberg, President of H&M Americas. H & M is committed to corporate social responsibility and has consistently demonstrated its concern through social and environmental welfare initiatives. The company performs internal audits and fosters improved communication with stakeholders. While Ms. Lindberg has a background in sales, rather than corporate citizenship, she sees similar goals for each: promoting good working conditions, cleaner environment and good labor relations. She encourages this by being open minded, listening to the staff, and informing and training staff people on CSR issues. Ultimately, she considers forums such as those held by WNSF, and the simple exchange of information to staff, customers and friends, helpful contributions to establishing greater knowledge and practice of business responsibility.

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