Experts say a corporate secretary can help change ethical culture

Sustainable business practices means going beyond being green.

Sustainability should be an indispensable part of the strategy implemented in all corporate business plans and actions, a group of governance experts declared at a conference in New York this week.

The Conference Board Center for Sustainability held a panel discussion on the need for c-suite executives and managers to start collaborating and communicating with sustainability officers within the corporation. The panelists included Debbi Jarvis, vice president, corporate citizenship and social responsibility, Pepco Holdings, and Andrew Singer, editor in chief, Ethikos. The session was moderated by Paige Magness, director of Corporate Responsibility, Altria Client Services.

Entitled, ‘The Corporate Social Responsibility Officer’s role in promoting an ethical corporate culture’, the panel explored why increased collaboration between top executives, the board and those involved with sustainability efforts is important for a company’s bottom line. It also showed evidence that increased efforts at sustainability contributes to an improved ethical corporate culture.

‘The sustainability role is fundamentally an innovation in a corporation’s culture,’ says David Vidal, director, Center for Sustainability. ‘In ethical terms, there is an assumption of an obligation, which is derived from a social expectation and that reflects what’s going on in sustainability.’

Why is this important for corporate secretaries? The panelists agreed that these governance professionals can tag team with the corporate social responsibility officer to help in executing CSR strategies that will ensure that the overall goals of the organization are met.

‘The corporate secretary is a monitor both of and for the board,’ adds Vidal, who has led the center for more than three years. ‘They sit at the intersection of the company where they can change the marketplace. The corporate secretary has to be informed about sustainability ethics and provide updates to the board, including CEOs and others who do the recruiting.’

Corporate Secretary deputy editor Aarti Maharaj recently interviewed Matt Lepore, vice president, chief council corporate governance and assistant general counsel at Pfizer, about his role in creating and promoting an ethical culture in the pharmaceuticals industry. (See video for more).

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