People, Planet, Profit!

Timothy J. Mohin is a corporate insider. He brings this perspective to his 2012 book, Changing Business From the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations. His book, which explores how corporations can do well by doing good, is part business guide and part employee handbook.

Mohin sees business as the dominant social institution of our time. In a global economy where the revenue of some corporations exceeds the gross domestic products of some nations, he believes these corporations “are now large enough to affect change on a global scale; their physical impacts and policies transcend national borders, and decisions made in corporate boardrooms can help or harm millions of people.”

Misdeeds such as the fall of Enron and Arthur Andersen, the 2008 mortgage meltdown and resulting great recession, and the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have all fueled mistrust of large corporations and the ability of government to effectively regulate them. He observes, “Increasing numbers of stakeholders are demanding responsibility from corporations.”

According to the author, business leaders “know that in the long run it is cheaper to act responsibly now than to dig out from a [public relations] disaster later.” So he offers a practical guide on how to “steer the corporate supertanker toward doing good for people and our planet.”

Corporate responsibility is a relatively new, but growing, corporate function. In 2011, over 5,500 companies issued sustainability reports, up from around 800 companies a decade before. And, by working from inside, an employee can have a tremendous impact. “I have done more for people and the planet working within corporations than I could have ever expected to achieve had I stayed in government…. The threat of enforcement or activism as a tool for change pales in comparison to…leveraging a multinational corporation’s buying power to transform working conditions in a global supply chain.”

Having spent the first decade of his career working for the Environmental Protection Agency and in the U.S. Senate, Mohin later worked at Intel, Apple, and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). He is currently the Director of Corporate Responsibility at AMD. His book provides practical guidance to people who want to work in the field of corporate responsibility. It covers the skills, processes, and actions required to succeed in this growing field.

One of the tasks Mohin suggests mastering is a 60-second “elevator speech” to describe the nature of one’s job and responsibilities. The example he provides is also a good definition of the business function he describes in the book:

Corporate responsibility is defined as balancing the “triple bottom line” which is essentially “people, planet, and profit.” Our team monitors, manages, and communicates with the public about the company’s behaviors in several areas, including environment, ethics, labor issues, supply chain responsibility, and others that together make up the reputation of our company. We help attract social investment to the company as well as build and protect the company’s reputation with customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

Today’s corporate responsibility practitioners may have risen through the ranks in a technical field like engineering, environmental compliance, or health and safety. Or, they may have started out in public affairs, government affairs, or community relations. Today, many companies have dedicated corporate responsibility staff embedded in one of these areas.

Mohin outlines skills for success which are useful skills in any field: be flexible and curious; maintain your core competency while learning new skills; communicate; lead through influence; read the system; make change less painful by focusing on the ways it improves profitability or efficiency; be entrepreneurial; pay attention to detail, discipline, quality, and results; and, above all, have passion for the cause.

Mohin’s treatment of his subject is thorough, yet concise. At 264 pages, the entire book is direct and on point. Later chapters deal with specific areas, such as environmental responsibility, supplier responsibility, relations with stakeholders and investors, employee engagement, diversity, governance, and ethics. In addition, Mohin details the methods and processes of communicating progress toward corporate responsibility goals to various stakeholders.

Filled with just enough real-life examples to clarify and illustrate the concepts presented, this book reads well as both a practitioner’s reference and an overview to a curious outsider. In addition, it can be a critical tool to those evaluating career options. Your college-age children torn between a desire to do good work and the need to make a good living would be an excellent audience for this book.

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