This week, Cone headed to the MGM National Harbor in Maryland to participate in this year's COMMIT!Forum – a two day conference focused onthe role of the corporate responsibility practitioner as companies aim to make their voices heard. The theme of the conference was "Brands Taking Stands" – certainly apropos given today's business and political environment. As the conference wraps, we're leaving with a renewed energy and commitment to the field but also a few important takeaways. Here are our four "a-ha" moments from COMMIT!Forum:
- Brands taking stands is not a trend – "get used to it": As CEO of the Corporate Responsibility Board, Dave Armon, noted in a tweet, the topics of gun violence, immigration and the opioid epidemic were all discussed before lunch on day one of the conference. In keeping with the theme, the event certainly didn't shy away from tough conversations on divisive topics. And, a group of practitioners discussing the topic at an issue table later in the day all agreed: brands taking stands is not a trend, but a growing component of a company's role in society. So in the words of John Howell, co-founder and editorial director of 3BL Media, "get used to it."
- Companies are now aligned with the SDGs, now it's time to start activating: New research released during COMMIT!Forum revealed 38 percent of Fortune 50 companies publicly support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But beyond just support, many organizations shared how they are mapping and structuring programs to align with the Goals. Melissa Adams, chief corporate social responsibility and sustainability officer at WGL Holdings/Washington Gas revealed how her company is supporting Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, while Jim McCory, vice president, global practice leader recruitment process outsourcing of ManpowerGroup Solutions showed how his organization plans to support four of the SDGs, contributing to making progress in education, decent work, gender equality and inclusive growth.
- It's okay to build the business case for standing up for issues – in fact, you should: In a morning plenary on Wednesday, Cone's own Director of Marketing/Research & Insights, Whitney Dailey, joined John Friedman, sustainability manager, WGL Holdings/Washington Gas, Steve Radick, VP and Director of Public Affairs, Brunner and Mark Tulay, Director, Strategic Investor Initiative, CECP: the CEO Force for Good. A key takeaway came when Radick, an insider on 84 Lumber's viral Super Bowl ad, revealed the impetus behind the commercial actually stemmed from a challenge recruiting talent. The ad helped position the company as an open and accepting place to work and an unexpected benefit was the groundswell of support from employees. Here we see that there can be a strong business case behind taking a stand on a divisive issue.
- Never stop learning: Dave Stangis, vice president, corporate responsibility and chief sustainability officer of Campbell Soup Company, and Katherine Smith, executive director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, joined the stage at COMMIT!Forum to discuss the launch of their new book, The Executive's Guide to 21st Century Corporate Citizenship: How Your Company Can Win the Battle for Reputation and Impact. The book includes best practices on integrating sustainability practices into an organization, but the key takeaway from Stangis during the session was "never stop learning." And certainly that is why industry thought leaders and CSR novices all convened in Maryland this week – because there is always more to learn in the journey toward a more sustainable future.
Although COMMIT!Forum 2017 may be at a close, it's fair to say the thoughts, ideas and conversations that were sparked at the event are only the beginning. We look forward to convening next year to hear the progress made and the milestones marked.