I recently had the honor of speaking to the Public Relations Study Society of America chapter at Pepperdine University about corporate social responsibility, sustainability overall and Edelman’s own citizenship journey over the past nine years.

It proved especially emotional since just last year, Pepperdine students experienced firsthand the horrific impact of climate change in the form of the Woolsey wildfire that raged around the Malibu, Calif. campus. Adjunct professor George Drucker, a former Edelman EVP and general manager, shared that the fires were burning up on the hilltop just 100 yards from the College of Communications building where I spoke.

During the lecture, I described how corporate social responsibility and sustainability today are at a “tipping point” as a result of three megatrends: A pervasive lack of trust; high stakeholder expectations that entities, particularly companies and government, act swiftly to tackle societal issues; and the severe environmental impacts putting a personal face on climate change.

In each case, I maintained being proactive on citizenship and sustainability is now a “must have,” not a “nice to have,” and that such proactivity can build trust among employees and stakeholders, as the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer and 2018 Edelman Earned Brand studies concluded. I also noted that an organization must develop corporate social responsibility policies and practices as a first step to anticipating and meeting emerging stakeholder expectations.

Edelman, I explained, didn’t have a supplier code of conduct, an environmental policy, a sustainable procurement policy or a human rights policy until we established our global Citizenship function in 2010. To address environmental impacts, companies should report and track their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as better manage local office impacts. In the spirit of starting small, this can be as simple as switching to double-sided printing, increasing the use of recycled paper, setting up recycle bins for paper, bottles and cans, and purchasing energy-efficient Energy Star or EPEAT office equipment.

Asked about what small businesses can do on the sustainability and citizenship fronts, I emphasized two key points, the first being that they can and should begin with small, simple steps and grow incrementally, just as we have done here at Edelman. Joining the United Nations Global Compact and developing a Communication on Progress that outlines practical actions that the company has taken or plans to take against the 10 UN Global Compact principles can prove an “easy” win for small businesses.

The second is that small businesses must begin thinking and acting as sustainable businesses, especially if they supply large enterprises, as more and more companies that sub-contract to small, diverse businesses will be asking about their progress on these sustainability issues in the coming years. At Edelman, our clients are increasingly holding us accountable to push corporate social responsibility and sustainability policies to our business partners, as reflected in new business requests.

I concluded my remarks with a charge to become involved in citizenship and be a proactive force for positive change. We can all be authentic, live our purpose – and become a global citizen.

John Edelman is managing director, Global Engagement and Corporate Responsibility.

Scott Webb