Thursday, March 22, 2007

KSG with McDonald's, EDF, and EPA

I headed over to the Kennedy School of Government for an early evening event sponsored by the CSC entitled "Green CSR: What’s the Role of Corporations in Addressing Environmental Challenges?". The panelists included Bob Langert, Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility at McDonald’s, Gwen Ruta, Director of Corporate Partnerships for Environmental Defense, and Dan Fiorino, Director of the National Environmental Performance Track at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The panel was moderated by an always energetic and effusive Jane Nelson the CSRI Director.

The discussion covered the standard fare, with examples of successful projects from Environmental Defense and the lack of a well defined policy on CSR from the EPA. Mr. Langert from McDonald's fielded many of the questions people directed at the panel, as they were mostly directed at the business person (I found it interesting that most questions were directed to Bob). Though it was subtle, there was clearly a bit of an edge to some of the questions posed to the "Big Bad Corporate" guy. There were some specific questions about McDonald's supply chain, and how they could leverage their buying power to influence their suppliers behaviors. The answers were not profound, but were pragmatic. It is "a lot harder than it seems" was the refrain that I heard repeated.

The point nailed home, that I hear again and again, is that CSR efforts must be driven by valid business reasons. In the age of discounting externalities, meeting short term earnings targets, and increasing shareholder returns an activity that poses any threat to meeting these targets will have a very hard time winning executive support.

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