Dave Stangis has been in the sustainability business for over 20 years. As of last year, he quite literally wrote the book on sustainability—twice. The Campbell’s vice president of corporate responsibility and chief sustainability officer first co-authored 21st Century Corporate Citizenship: A Practical Guide to Delivering Value to Society and Your Business last March, and he quickly followed up with The Executive’s Guide to 21st Century Corporate Citizenship: How Your Company Can Win the Battle for Reputation and Impact in August. Both books were co-authored by Katherine Valvoda Smith, executive director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. Before joining Campbell’s and writing two books, Stangis worked for 12 years at Intel, where he created and led the corporate responsibility function.
At the end of this month, on January 30th, the Erb Institute will host Stangis as part of our C-Suite Speaker Series, for a discussion on technology, consumer products and the future of sustainability. Before his visit to Ann Arbor, the Erb Institute asked Stangis, a Michigan alumnus, about his latest book and how sustainability professionals can use it.
Q: Congrats on your newest book, The Executive's Guide to 21st Century Corporate Citizenship! Can you tell us a bit about it?
Stangis: I always try to set a little context up front about what this book is, and perhaps more importantly, what it’s not. First and foremost, this is a book about building a successful business in the 21st century. It’s a book about leveraging all the tools, trends and assets at the disposal of business to drive bottom-line results, value chain resiliency, productivity, innovation, long-term shareowner value, and benefit for the community. We set out to provide a set of practices and checklists that can help you ensure that you are considering environmental, social and governance impacts and assets to create competitive advantage for your company and a better world for us all. We use terms like sustainability, corporate responsibility and social impact to help explain our concepts and translate some of our frameworks, but this is all about creating the most successful business possible in the 21st century’s competitive landscape.
Q: How is your book different from other business books that might line our shelves?
Stangis: We initially thought about writing a leadership book, or book on the leadership characteristics needed to run a successful business in the 21st century. But honestly, leadership books are a dime a dozen. My library is full of great leadership books, written by great leaders. They’re enjoyable to read, and they offer great stories.
In all of those books, we had not found a simple and practical “how to” guide for building a comprehensive corporate citizenship strategy anchored in purpose, and leveraging rapidly evolving external environmental dynamics. That’s what we set out to do here. You can dive into the examples and resources to any depth you desire. If you work your way through the sections of this book and implement the tools and tactics we offer, you will develop yourself as an effective advocate for corporate citizenship, and your organization’s 21st century business strategy will be more resilient, agile and successful than your competitors’.
Q: What audience do you think would benefit most from reading your book?
Stangis: We wrote this book with several audiences in mind: for the individual corporate citizenship/CSR professional seeking to navigate his or her own meaningful career in the purpose-driven economy; for the CEO who wants to drive real change and agreement among subordinates about the measures of accountability of corporate citizenship; or the board member who wants to know the kind of questions he or she needs to ask to ensure management is paying attention to the right things.
Q: How can sustainability professionals use your book in practice?
Stangis: Don’t approach this book as a “sustainability” book. Approach it as a business book. The way the world has come together is that these professionals exist because there’s a vacuum in companies in terms of generating value. And that’s why the book is so business focused. Sustainability and strategic corporate citizenship are ways to help a company close the gap in terms of value creation.
Q: What is the future of sustainability in business, and how does your book speak directly to this question?
Stangis: Today, sustainability leaders operate almost like strategic consultants. And the more integrated they are, the better. Hundreds of big, well-known companies have two or three people in this central group who are trying to influence the entire enterprise and hold titles like “manager of corporate citizenship.” Those are the people we’re trying to help with our book.
Companies are evolving to the point that they are tapping into what we call sustainability and corporate citizenship to inform their business strategy. It’s about the actual bottom line—the top line—and how to drive revenue growth, how to save money, how to bring new products to market. I’m seeing it at Campbell. I’m seeing it in the food sector, and you’re going to see that accelerate. And that’s what we’re trying to teach in the book.
I’m pretty certain you’re going to see much more integration, where people are embedded in the organization, but that these people are much more tied to the actual strategy. I see CEOs who are adopting and leading with these principles, and board members being picked because they have these kinds of skills and this kind of broad view of the world.