Exclusive interview with Andrea Baldwin

CBJ explores the next frontiers of CSR with Canadian Business for Social Responsibility

As one of CBJ’s key partners in the area of sustainability, we were pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Andrea Baldwin, Vice-President of Member Experience at Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), an organization helping companies deal with issues pertaining to corporate social responsibility.

The organization’s slogan is “changing the way business does business”, and we couldn’t agree more with their approach.

CBJ: We’re in a post-recession phase now. Is 2011 and good time for companies to build a comprehensive CSR program?

Andrea Baldwin: The short answer is yes. I think the learning that happened through the recession is that you can’t have a sustainability program that doesn’t support your business objectives. So, post-recession we need to make sure building a program is about looking for the “and” not the “or” in sustainability: we always need to link the two together.

Through the recession, companies cut discretionary spending which often included sustainability programming that was in the beginning stages of development. They might have spent time setting up the program, but didn’t spend money on it. During that time, we spent a lot more time doing (with members) doing assessments and strategy work.

Now, we’re seeing companies returning to doing work on sustainability, usually starting with a good environmental strategy or something else in place.

CBJ: What are the benefits you offer to members?

AB: We try to leverage the companies in our network that are doing more within the areas of sustainability, and try to share best practices.

We are learning from each other’s mistakes, and we do this in a sector-focused approach.

We are always thinking about the power of the network and how we can achieve sustainable business practice. We convene people, network, do strategy development and assessments for companies.

CBJ: What issues are you currently dealing with?

AB: Under the environment umbrella, people are increasingly aware of their own operations impact, but they’re also thinking increasingly about the products and services they provide and the impact consumers that use them have on the environment. Companies are also thinking about their supply chain and what influence they’re having on it.

There is an expansion of the scope of the definition of environmental responsibilities. Companies are asking how they can leverage the knowledge they have with their supply chains.

On the social responsibility front, there is a continued trend to employee engagement, in the form of community investment and working with community stakeholders. In governance we’re seeing a lot more transparency in reporting, in leadership, more visibility and CEOs talking about performance management.

CBJ: What makes CBSR successful and what issues do you see on the horizon?

AB: One of the reasons we’re successful and our network has as much value as it does is because we share expertise and trends across industries. We are watching the trends, whether they are those related to CSR governance or accountability to climate change.

We’re seeing a shift in adaptation, and now we’re looking at life cycle analysis of products.

We’re also dealing with human rights and what it means for our companies, this is an issue of high importance for our extractive companies. We see significant role for executives and the board who will provide appropriate oversight for social and environmental issues.

CBSR is also engaged in opportunities to get companies talking about oilsands issues and helping the government understand these issues.

CBJ: Thank you Andrea.