The AT&T PR luvvies pushed out a tweet today announcing they had freshly minted their first Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). I took a closer look and it turns out the newly appointed Charlene Lake has been in situ since last year albeit with the slightly more modest title of VP Public Affairs Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability. So what's going on? Is this just a sop to PR?
Actually, I have to deduce that there is more to this than a change in tax bracket for Charlene. Rather, AT&T is signaling intent to get serious about sustainability and move on from the more traditional philanthropy model. The dropping of 'corporate citizenship' and the singular focus on 'sustainability' is the clue. And the signs are indeed promising. Since Charlene's appointment last year, even with the handicap of a lesser title, she has managed to deliver. For instance AT&T now claims it has:
- established a governance model capable of integrating sustainability across the organisation which tethers its mandate to the Chairman's office
- centralized its fragmented corporate citizenship efforts
- clarified its strategy to focus on six key areas: Community, People, Integrity, Environment, Product Stewardship, Sustainability R&D. (these are not the official AT&T titles, just my parsing of the corporate PR gobbledy gook)
- began a ten year programme to green their ground fleet with planned investment in 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles
- stakeholder engagement to identify materially relevant issues to AT&T's sustainability strategy - see below. (Anything missing from the materiality matrix? Do you agree with AT&T's prioritization? Leave a comment.)
Now whilst AT&T has not yet set out a climate strategy, nor completed a GRI standard sustainability report with assurance nor set firm targets; it would appear that all of this is on the way. This from the last sustainability report:
We’re still in the initial stages of establishing measures that will help us better manage our business and be relevant and understandable to stakeholders. We’re paying particular attention to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We recognize the need to fully understand our existing impacts and to better position our company for the transition to a carbon-constrained economy by reducing our reliance on carbon-intensive energy sources. As a first step, we’re focusing on measuring our energy consumption
This might all seem a bit basic but its hard to underestimate how even the most intelligent firms can't even do the basics. For example in AT&T's 2006 sustainability report boasts of membership to the California Climate Action Registry. A more enlightened AT&T of today would seem to understand that the reporting of emissions at local level, in the absence of an enterprise wide carbon foot print accounting and reduction plan, is nearly a complete waste of time.
With her shiny new title and the groundwork in place, watch out for Charlene & AT&T to start announcing some more serious, grown up, corporate level sustainability targets soon. But what I will be looking out for is this: will AT&T stay in the realm of energy reduction goals or will they also set a CO2 target? The former is aimed at shareholders, the latter is both public good & the bottom line. And given that the CSO's domain is still in the realm of Public Affairs, how serious a commitment is AT&T prepared to make in terms of product innovation for sustainability and how much influence will a Public Affairs based CSO have to drive this forward? Given the remarkably high level of early definition & momentum for the philanthropy plank of the sustainability strategy, will AT&T have the same appetite to address their core business as they manifestly do for the community?
Good luck Charlene.