As a manager, when your company doesn't really care, what can you do? (updated)

With the news that Kara Hurst, head of the Sustainability Consortium is to join Amazon as a senior sustainability executive an important question arises.

"If you work in sustainability/CSR in a company that doesn't really care about the agenda, what can you do about it?"

There are two ways to answer this question.

One is the standard way whereby you make the usual case that sustainability/CSR enhances:

- Reputation in general
- Employee attraction, motivation, innovation, retention and productivity
- Investor attraction (albeit limited)
- Licence to operate when things go wrong
- B2B partner and supplier relationships
- Local and national government relations
- Your ability to meet current and future environmental requirements
- NGO conversations and partnerships
- Community satisfaction
- Executive career paths
- Your ability to innovate and see short/medium/long term risks
Etc etc

The second is much harder.

Amazon should know all of the above. But founder Jeff Bezos doesn't seem to take these points seriously. Presumably other senior managers follow his lead.

So what can you do if you join a company that just doesn't want to do much?

Perhaps Amazon now wants to do more. It's possible. Apple proved that a recalcitrant firm can listen to external voices and make a key hire that changes things.

It's equally possible they have hired Kara Hurst just to look good. 

(Let us hope she will lead the changes that former US EPA boss Lisa Jackson is credited with at Apple. Presumably you don't make senior hires like his unless you are serious. Time will tell)

Amazon aside, if your bosses just want you to be window-dressing, what can you do except resign?

I don't know. I have a few thoughts, but I have a feeling some readers do too.

Look forward to your ideas. 

UPDATE: After first publishing this post on Friday 22nd as an experimental approach to crowd sourcing some ideas/solutions, as usual I had a few comments from readers which may form some kind of answer to the above question.

The general mood from commentators was, if you can't be taken seriously as a change manager or catalyst, then go work somewhere you can make a difference. 

Others pointed out that defining "not caring" is quite tough, and there are nuances to consider. 

Here's a few points to consider when dealing with a company which today, only wants to do the minimum:

1) The compliance agenda counts 
For example, even in a company such as Amazon, which has dealt with the sustainability agenda by largely ignoring it, they have to comply with environmental regulations. So how can you creatively use the creeping regulatory agenda on green issues, combined with increased transparency demands, to build interest in getting ahead of that regulation, and make a business case out of this. 

2) Re-frame sustainability/CSR as business efficiency. Take out all the jargon, all of it. Focus entirely on teams of empowered employees driving money saving programmes. Pretty soon the greener / sustainability agenda will provides some useful stats (think basics like fuel, lights, transport, logistics etc)

3) Talk about offsetting political risk (this is the license to operate model but on a macro level) in emerging markets. Many countries are becoming much more aggressive with foreign companies, so dig up some examples of where shareholder value has been affected and link these with better operating practices. 

4) Push harder on the innovation agenda. A bit like point two, removing all jargon and making the links based on evidence is the way to try persuading your board to engage in sustainability/CSR.

If I receive any further comments from readers I will update this post further. Meantime here's a link to a relevant article I wrote last year on this area.

It's called: 

This slide deck from 2013 that I put together may also be useful:


Three focused, detailed and practical sustainable business events for your diary

Upcoming Innovation Forum events in 2014:

How business can tackle deforestation
Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends

28th-29th October, 2014, London. More details here.

How to effectively engage stakeholders in frontier markets (emerging markets)
An exclusive two-day executive training workshop, certified by the CSR Training Institute
30-31 October, 2014, London. More details here.

Business and human rights
How to get beyond policy, manage risk and build relationships
10 November, 2014, London. More details here.
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