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ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) and sustainability have been an important part of the corporate strategy dialogue over the years. While many companies are taking action, most of this activity is silenced and dissociated from broader organizational contexts. When this happens, companies miss out on great opportunities to support and strengthen their business model, market position and strategic direction from ESG.
To better understand how companies can integrate sustainability into their strategies and operations, I spoke with Bridgette McAdoo. Which has been a leader in sustainability in many industries and sectors for over 20 years. She is currently pioneering her experience as a Genesis Global Sustainability Officer, a California-based technology company and service provider. Prior to Genesis, Bridget led the corporate strategy and engagement for WWF’s Freshwater and Food Goals and served as Global Director of Sustainability for KFC, where she worked internally within Yum! Brands and externally with various sustainability stakeholders globally.
You’ve been with Genesis for over a year. How did you find it in terms of sustainability and how did it get started?
Genesys has always looked to sustainability as part of its business practice. I attribute this to our CEO, Tony Bates, who has been at Genesis for almost three years. We also have Peter Graf as our Chief Strategic Officer, who previously served as a sustainability leader at SAP. These two executive leaders within our organization have a passion for sustainability and understand how it can affect business. While this was triggered by our CEO and CSO, there was also the will of our employees. Everyone was ready for that moment.
From day one, I knew we were going to make unique commitments to our business, but that could help us move the industry into more sustainable practices. We wanted to be an emerging leader and be very honest in our voice.
When I started Genesis in December 2020, I was excited to be its first global stability officer. This allowed me to develop a strategy that our leadership could align. One of the biggest hurdles that many physicians have is that it never goes down the top. Instead, it is more of a ground flower. Typically, you group employees into a green team and tell them, “We want to be sustainable.” Then they try to persuade the leaders to work. However, for us, it was going to be an up-and-down approach just to show that we are committed, but that we are as genesis. We want to make a strategy to reflect that.
Technically our group strategy is part of the work, but we see sustainability as a holistic, integrated approach. Each single corporate function is involved: from IT and sales, to HR and finance. We have embraced it and tried to ensure that we can address the needs of society in a sympathetic way. In Genesis, the basis of who we are is based on empathy. You cannot be a sustainable business and drive sustainability without empathy. This is a core value, and the fundamental truth of who we are, is our biological expansion of how we empathize not only with our employees, but also with our customers and our key stakeholders.
I spent the first six months building my team and developing our strategy. Since then, we have set four goals in our Environmental, Social and Good Governance Pillars, all of which will be achieved by 2030. This includes achieving net zero by 2030. We want to touch one million lives through our products – we know our products and services are uniquely existent. And the difference to accomplish this, whether it’s through crisis, prevention, or innovation and technology. We want to ensure that our workforce is as diverse as our market. We are always committed to the maximum privacy, security and availability of our products and technology.
But we also knew that we had a lot of work to do. That’s why we set stability as a strategic trading KPI. For example, everyone should do their part to achieve carbon neutrality, which includes shifting from campus to cloud and more sustainable office spaces. Everyone is expected to help us reach our goals for diversity, equality and inclusion. For example, our real estate and facilities team has done amazing work on our future workforce, ensuring that we explore virtual and flexible working frameworks.
And that’s just the beginning of what we can really do in Genesis.
Related: Why ESG Conscious Companies Are Flexible Companies
Now let’s talk about Yum! Brands. What was different? Was it the same
Yum! Brands is a public-facing consumer brand whose problems are very different from those encountered by technology software companies. We had over 50,000 restaurants in over 120 countries. This meant different regulations, consumer requirements, and infrastructure capabilities, and consequently sustainability concerns.
Yum Sang! Brands, our primary focus was on packaging, recycling and nutrition and animal welfare in antibiotics. These issues are not material for Genesis. What I focused on in Genesis is not what I would focus on in Yum! Due to various physical problems.
Yet the basic truth is that we should all focus on content. Whether you are a large restaurant chain, or an emerging technology software company, software services are important. We should all focus on material things. Every leader needs to ask, “What are our most material issues?” You can determine this by conducting a physical evaluation. Yum in both! Brands and Genesis, we started with physical evaluation, and although these companies differed greatly due to the nature of their final product, the process was the same. We still need to understand the areas to focus on our sustainability efforts. We need to address them operationally so that our growth does not cause further damage. In doing so, we must ensure sustainability, risk reduction, optimized efficiency and maximization of opportunities.
There are some things that are universal to address materialism. For example, we should all focus on climate change. After COP26, we realized that urgency is necessary. It is the same for diversity, equality and inclusion. No matter what your product or service is, we all need to make sure that we have universal access to it, and that our workforce is as diverse as the communities and markets we serve. We are in an inclusive culture. We need to see how our presence affects our employees, the community and the stakeholders. Performing on these key issues gives us a license to operate and grow. Regardless of the industry, there are areas where we can come together because of equal access and shared values and interests in climate change.
This is definitely a strategy-driven way to zero in on organizational priorities when it comes to ESG. From your point of view, what should be the role of strategy in driving ESG and sustainability performance?
Strategies always start with the knowledge of what content is for your business. Companies may still be overwhelmed. “Where do I start? Do I have to do CDP? Or do I have to do EcoVadis? What is GRI? What is SASB?” There are many different requirements, guidelines, frameworks, and parameters. This can create a lot of confusion and anger among some stability professionals.
You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. Until you evaluate the materiality and understand where your risks and weaknesses are. This will help you to focus on the most important issues that will form the basis for the difference analysis. Start by asking, “In the most content areas for our business, where are we, the industry, our competitors, and where do we want to be?” You can’t lead everything. Priorities must be set.
In Genesis, we find areas where we want to immerse ourselves completely. Moving from the campus to the cloud. Changing the way we think about our future workplace. Adjusting the way we travel. Addressing diversity, equality and inclusion. But there are always other areas that need to be addressed, so it is important to establish the speed and sequence for yourself. After all, sustainability is an evolving journey, and today’s solutions may not work tomorrow.
While it is important to look for opportunities to maximize impact, you need to make sure that they are uniquely located to strengthen your company. The last thing I want to do is wash anything green, so I’m going to present anything that isn’t good for us in our business.
When it comes to making ESG commitments, you need to be honest with yourself and be able to accept that your company may not be ready to make certain commitments. This is not a bad thing at all, but an honest, transparent reflection of where the company is and its maturity level. Here at Genesys, for example, we are technically a novice at ESG trying to scale against others in the industry and we seem to be aligned with industry best practices. At the same time, we are clear about our own “true answer” to which we are committed.
Related: ESG Another Frontier – Interview with Mike Stopka of Burrow Hapold
I mean, it’s an unusual, almost groundbreaking way to be a novice. Genesis’s ESG may not have the same track record as others, but starting with such a strong, strategically aligned foundation can help you leapfrog many leaders into space.
There is a delicate balance between how much you talk and how much you push yourself. How ambitious can you be? Any sustainability expert will agree that you want to be ambitious and inspiring, but not delusional.
We could have claimed a lot in the beginning, but it would not have served us well. We want our commitments to be public, transparent and purposeful. We all want to feel authentic and empathetic. But we also knew we had to make progress and measure up against it. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.
Do you have any other advice for companies starting or intervening to implement ESG programs?
I am in a very lucky position because our CEO and leadership are very committed to ESG. Some senior executives sometimes feel they are fighting for the top spot, competing for head space, priorities and commitments. Unfortunately, some companies do not necessarily recognize the value of consistency – and contact it as a box to check in response to all the different reporting and rating criteria. This focus on reporting can divert attention from the real effects of ESG. It gets thinner. Sustainability hurts, both from an attraction and retention perspective, and from an innovation and implementation perspective, when it lacks focus on results.
Things are different in Genesis. I want to believe that this is due to the leadership and commitment that we have in our organization. So, my advice to others on ESG Travel is this: Do whatever you can to build a business case behind its value for your leadership, so that it is inherent throughout the organization. Ultimately, fulfilling ESG commitments should be part of your company’s DNA.
Related: HP CIO Ellen Jakowski Explains Why ESG is Needed for Corporate Stability