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How can organizations best align their core business activities with community wellbeing? That was the topic of a recent Sustainable Brands webinar hosted by EVERFI and featuring insights from AT&T, EcoRise and Hershey.
In recent years — but especially since the
transformed society — recognition that a company has a responsibility to not
only support, but actively address inequities in the communities in which they
operate has become increasingly central to corporate social responsibility.
“Innovation and sustainability have been important over the past decade,” said
Jeff Fromm, a sustainability marketing expert and author of The Purpose Advantage 2.0.
“Over the last 18 months, economic, social and racial justice have come to the
forefront at a remarkably rapid rate.”
But how to best align an organization’s core business with community wellbeing?
That was the topic of a recent Sustainable Brands
hosted by EVERFI — an international technology company
driving social change through
with Fromm joining participants from leading organizations.
A key theme was the need for brands to be both authentic and transparent. For
companies such as Hershey and
AT&T, that means connecting the
challenges of the present with their legacy and long-term status as members of
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“We really do want to think about where we are building from, and tie it to that
narrative and story,” said Katrina Jurgill Briddell, Hershey’s Manager of
Sustainability and Social Impact. “Be transparent; be open about the challenges
you are facing along the way.”
This also helps avoid another growing concern — “purpose
Customers, especially those from younger generations, are increasingly savvy at
telling the difference between brands that are just saying the right things and
those actually working to positively impact their communities. It was agreed
that if you don’t share and communicate openly, brands risk being seen as
One way to demonstrate authenticity is to connect your sustainability work with
your core business. Roman Smith, AT&T’s Director for Environmental and
Social Innovation, shared how the company has been preparing for climate change
— which will impact its telecommunication infrastructure — by creating
neighborhood-level modeling of potential impacts. They realized that this data
could be valuable to communities, as well.
“We built a model that is future-looking, for the next 30 years, on a 200-meter
basis — not only to protect our own business, but also to help protect our
communities with NGO partners,” Smith said. “Community leaders need to be
engaged because the climate crisis is a climate justice
and we need information to get out into those communities.”
Working with nonprofit partners is often easier said than done. Gina
LaMotte, founder of EcoRise — a nonprofit
organization working to infuse sustainability, design innovation and social
entrepreneurship through project-based curriculum — shared her thoughts on the
challenges and opportunities of corporate-nonprofit
“Even if the intentions are good, things gothings to go awry,” she said. “A lot
of it goes down to power dynamics between a nonprofit and a corporation; and
there is a tendency for a nonprofit to say yes to whatever it is, but not
necessarily have the bandwidth to follow through.”
There is no easy solution except to plan ahead and build trust over the long
term. Only then can partnerships really have an impact, LaMotte added.
“Longer-term investments are important for building and understanding each
other's work,” she said. “I wish companies would start with 24 months — because
we won’t get it right the first time, but we’ll learn so much from working from
One of EcoRise’s established partnerships is with AT&T — where LaMotte’s team is
turning their climate modeling into educational materials, so that students can
play a role in designing climate-resilience solutions in communities across the
“For us, education and working with youth is primary, an upstream approach that
builds knowledge and behavior that lasts a
Long-term engagement means companies have to be willing to invest significant
resources into communities and partnerships, both in time and money. That
requires true commitment. And it will pay off in the long term — if, as Fromm
pointed out, brands align what they provide in communities with the values and
desires of increasingly savvy and sustainability-focused consumers.
“People want to live their values, assuming there isn’t a significant premium in
cost, time and convenience,” Fromm said. “When companies figure out how to fuse
purpose and sustainability, and decrease the friction — then, values win.”
Published Oct 29, 2021 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.