Corporate leadership in community building for equity and sustainability

  • July 19, 2021
  • |
  • Bridget Rathsack

In December 2020, the Sustainable Growth Coalition convened a cross-functional group of C-suite leaders to explore the relationship between equity and sustainability from local and global perspectives. Themes on this complex set of relationships emerged including:

  • Organizations are expected to be transparent about actions and outcomes for both racial equity and environmental sustainability.
  • Empowering the most marginalized people within a community and an organization benefits all.

The attendees were interested in additional learning opportunities, and we hosted a subsequent event last month framed with these two themes from the previous convening as part of the event design.

Executive hosts Brett C. Carter, Executive Vice President & Chief Customer and Innovation Officer, Xcel Energy, and Emilio Tenuta, Sr. Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, Ecolab, welcomed attendees to the event. Three BIPOC leaders representing a multitude of perspectives including community, corporate, and personal offered thought-provoking insights to consider when developing meaningful corporate relationships with community. A few reflections from the conversation are worth considering regardless of organization size and one’s position within an organization.

  • Whose perspectives should be invited, included, heard, and engaged during community conversations with your organization generally and during decision-making processes?
  • Does your organization’s business model consider community needs?
  • What communities are involved with and impacted by the work your organization does?
  • Building relationships and practicing deep listening with impacted communities can drive true change in the way that corporations and communities interact.

Sustainable Growth Coalition members have a deep understanding that organizational leadership occurs at multiple levels. Engineers explore ways to design circularity into products, human resource teams develop approaches to deconstruct institutional racism in hiring, and executive leaders are uniquely positioned to call for organizational change when evaluating the depth and breadth of challenges facing an organization.

We explored how to connect these levels of leadership and what each level can influence during Incorporating Equity Into Enterprise Social Impact, a recent webinar hosted by the Sustainable Growth Coalition. During the session, we encouraged participants to post suggestions on a digital whiteboard to share with executive leaders. A few highlights from the whiteboard included:

  • “It would be helpful if executives asked their staff, regularly and consistently, how proposed initiatives are advancing equity and justice. I think there still is a tendency to think that there are ‘equity initiatives’ and everything else, rather than equity and justice being integral/integrated in everything.”
  • “Trying to create a ‘shared vision for the future’ doesn’t really celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion. We want to create a ‘vision for a shared future’ where everyone thrives.”
  • “Culture change management strategies related to equity applied inside your organization are as important as external-facing ones.”

The complexity of this work acknowledges there is no “one right way” to assess the gaps and opportunities within an organization. Knowing that a cookie-cutter approach will fail, the executive network offers C-suite leaders a confidential space to explore the topic together, learn from one another, and build meaningful organizational change.

Our next C-suite roundtable event will be held later this year. I welcome your thoughts on organizational approaches to incorporating equity into sustainability and look forward to convening another great event with our executive hosts. Please contact me if you are interested participating in the Executive Network Series.

The Corporate Leadership in Community Building for Equity and Sustainability event was hosted by Environmental Initiative, the Sustainable Growth Coalition, and GREATER MSP.