In the wake of disasters such as the 2010 Gulf oil spill, it seems many consumers took on the belief that corporations and businesses have little social or environmental conscience and too often focus on sales and profit as the sole concern. Not only is that notion largely incorrect, it is wrong for the simplest reason: such an approach would be bad business.
Too often, businesses are lumped together as profit-driven enterprises with no thought of how their actions help or hurt the community. However, the business leaders that I work with and speak to on a regular basis understand that an active social conscience combined with broad community involvement almost always helps to improve the bottom line. At NCCI, we’ve identified four key elements that we believe define a successful corporate social responsibility philosophy.
• Community: A responsible company is involved in the communities where it does business.
• People: The best companies are committed to hiring and retaining a highly skilled and diverse staff.
• Practices: Leaders are known for integrity and the transparency of business practices.
• Environment: Responsible businesses are committed to conserving natural resources.
Perhaps the least tangible of these goals is the call to preserve natural resources. It can be hard to see how such a mandate — apart from encouraging an altruistic workplace — might be called a good business decision. Yet our experience might serve as a useful guideline for combining that altruistic calling with tangible business requirements.
For the last several years, our company has been actively engaged in pursuing green operations as well as encouraging practices that call on all of our employees to perform their responsibilities in the most environmentally conscious way.
To be clear, this was not a decision that we approached lightly. There were some considerable expenses associated with idea of greening our operations, and some thought the benefits might not outweigh the costs. The fact that employees were driving the project and volunteering to serve on committees and study environmentally friendly recommendations helped drive a positive decision.
To identify corporatewide initiatives, we put in place a new Green Operations team that is charged with evaluating green options and maintaining the company’s focus on being an environmentally responsible company. The areas they’ve identified range from the mundane to the truly unique, from changing to LED lights, setting all printers to print double-sided copies and switching the settings on desktop monitors to implementing innovative structural changes that reduce cooling needs in our data center.
We are justifiably proud of our employee’s interest and ambition in pursuing green initiatives and practices. Since the program’s beginnings, there have been literally dozens of new ideas from employees suggesting greener business practices. We have also earned recognition for our efforts, including a Green Plus Certification from the Institute for Sustainable Development in North Carolina, which works with several other prestigious institutions.
At this point, another CEO or senior manager might say, “This is all well and good, but how do you sell the green company idea to a board of directors, your owners or shareholders?”
The answer is simple. Like every other business decision we make, we look at the bottom line. What does the cost-benefit analysis tell you?
In the case of NCCI’s green initiative, we’ve realized some remarkable savings. For example, our paper costs were reduced by 27 percent in a single year. And more impressively, we’ve been able to realize an annual savings of $125,000 in energy costs to improve our bottom line.
In the end, embracing social responsibility and encouraging environmental awareness has brought our company numerous rewards — both fiscal and personal. There are tangible business savings that come from meeting our need to act responsibly and in an environmentally friendly manner. Moreover, this encourages our entire staff to renew its commitment to finding and suggesting further green initiatives that can be successfully implemented.
Stephen J. Klingel was appointed president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. in 2002. Before joining NCCI, he was a leader with the St. Paul Cos. for more than 25 years.