CSR Passion Fuels Innovation

by Nikki Korn


This week I facilitated a panel at the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship conference on how corporate social responsibility can fuel business innovation.  We had a rock star panel with Amy Skoczlas Cole (eBay’s Head of Environment and Director of eBay Green Team); Eve Callahan, (Umpqua Bank’s SVP, Corporate Communications); and Kris Bowring (Best Buy’s Senior Director, Home Management).

We had a dynamic conversation about how each of these companies are being intentional about creating disruption in their cultures and challenging the status quo.  They are doing this not because it’s fun and easy (we learned quite the opposite), but because ultimately their work will not only fuel their business and create new growth opportunities, but also positively impact society. From “real” community banking; to a sustainable shipping box; and a best-in-class electronics recycling initiative, we had a powerful session.

When I first asked the audience what they thought of when they heard the term “innovation” they said, “New; Out of the box; Different.”  Not surprising, but I really wanted to add ‘overused’ to the list.

We all learned quickly that successful sustainability-related business innovation is really centered around helping colleagues and employees ‘unlearn’ their current business, challenge all assumptions and – my favorite – “REFRAME” the business you are in.  Umpqua Bank actually did just that. One day they asked themselves “what business are we in?”  They figured out quickly that it was not banking, but that they were actually a retailer.  Thus, they sought inspiration and ideas outside of their industry. They now have some of the coolest banks and community hubs in the U.S.  If you want to visit the “un-bank” in America, then check them out in Portland, OR.  Eve from Umpqua explained that this significant change was not easy for them, but has really worked as they build a different kind of relationship with their customers, employees and the community.

Amy from eBay described how their business is never static.  After coming from Conservation International and being a true intrapreneur herself, she knew that eBay needed a vehicle for their employees to share their passion around the environment.  She and her colleagues created the eBay Green Team to tackle some of the very real environmental sustainability challenges in their business and to allow for eBay employees to be empowered and actively engaged in solving business issues.  One really cool example from the Green Team is the newly unveiled eBay shipping box.  It’s not only a platinum example of a box made with recycled content, it is designed for lots of reuse and can even be tracked around the globe.  Order some of these cool boxes.

And last but not least, Kris from Best Buy (who is by far the funniest person I have met in awhile) had some brilliant coaching for the CSR players in the audience.  He has had a more than two decade history at Best Buy, and he said that it’s so critical for us all to “stay out of the bell curve in our jobs” and be uncomfortable.   This is key to solving major business challenges and creating real growth opportunities for a company.  Best Buy has come a long way in the past few years.  I was especially inspired by their recycling program after hearing their CEO that morning talk about it.  Watch Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn’s keynote address.  Best Buy is truly tackling their e-waste challenge.  To live out their commitment to ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ they have created internal innovation labs that bring together all levels of the company with executives.  Internal teams are assigned a business challenge to address over a set amount of time and then must present the solution to the executive team.  It’s kind of their own version of the Apprentice, and it really works!

These are just some of the many ways these companies are “changing the game” and proactively “framing change” in their businesses.  I can’t wait to watch their moves and will continue to coach my clients to do the same.  I also can’t wait to visit an Umpqua Bank and grab their free latte; shop on eBay and reuse their new shipping box; and head to Best Buy with a car full of all of my outdated electronics gathering dust in my basement.  Yes, I may walk out with something new too — But isn’t that part of the innovation?

What’s your innovation?  Please share with me at nkorn@causeconsulting.com

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