A Conversation With Bridgette McAdoo: Sustainability as a Matter of Corporate Strategy

A Conversation With Bridgette McAdoo: Sustainability as a Matter of Corporate Strategy

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ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and sustainability became a critical part of the corporate strategy conversation over the past few years. Many companies are taking action but much of it is isolated and disconnected from larger organizational contexts. Companies miss out on huge opportunities that ESG support and strengthening their business model , market positioning, and strategic direction can offer.

Bridgette McAdoo

For a better understanding of how companies can integrate sustainability into their strategy and operations, I talked to Bridgette McAdoo, who has been a leader in sustainability across several industries and sectors for over 20 years. She is currently the Global Sustainability Officer of Genesys, a California-based technology company and pioneer in the Experience-as-a-Service space. Prior to Genesys, Bridgette led corporate strategy and engagement for WWF’s Freshwater and Food goals and served as Global Director of Sustainability for KFC, where she worked internally within Yum! Brands and externally with many sustainability stakeholders at the global level.

You have been with Genesys for over a year now. What was the journey to sustainability?

Genesys always considered sustainability a part of its business practices. Tony Bates, Genesys’ CEO, has been with us for three years. We also have Peter Graf as our Chief Strategy Officer, who previously served as a sustainability leader at SAP. Both of our executive leaders have a passion and understanding for sustainability. It was initiated by our CEO and CSO but there was also a desire among our employees. Everyone was ready for the moment to come.

I knew from day one that we would make unique commitments to our business and help drive the industry towards more sustainable practices. We wanted to be an emerging leader in the industry and be authentic in our voice.

When I started at Genesys in December 2020, I was excited to become its first global sustainability officer. This allowed me to build a strategy that our leadership could align to. It is not top-down, which is a major problem for most practitioners. It is more of a ground-swell. You usually group employees into green teams and tell them that you want to be sustainable. They then try to convince their leaders to take action. This was for us a top-down approach that would not only show our commitment but also reflect who Genesys is. We wanted to create a strategy that reflected that.

Although technically our group is part the strategy function, we view sustainability as an integrated, holistic approach. Every corporate function is involved, from IT and sales to finance and HR. We have accepted it and tried our best to make society more humane. Genesys’ core values are based on empathy. You can’t be a sustainable business and drive sustainability without being empathetic. It is a core value and a foundational truth of who we are. It is our organic extension to how we are empathetic not only to our employees but also to our customers and key stakeholders.

I spent the first six month building my team, and developing our strategy. Then, established four goals across our environmental, social and governance pillars, all to be reached by 2030. This included achieving net zero by 2030. We want to make a difference in the lives of one million people through our product. We know that our products are unique and differentiated to achieve this goal, regardless of whether it’s through prevention, crisis, innovation, and technology. We want to ensure that our workforce is as diverse and inclusive as our markets. We are committed to ensuring maximum privacy, security, and accessibility of our products.

We also knew that there was a lot to do. We have made sustainability a strategic business KPI. For example, everyone has to take their part in achieving carbon neutrality, including things like migrating from premise to cloud and more sustainable office spaces. All are expected to contribute to our diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Our real estate and facilities team has done a great job in shaping our workforce of tomorrow and ensuring that we have flexible and virtual working arrangements.

And this is just the beginning.

Related: Why ESG Conscious Companies are Resilient Companies

Now let’s talk about Yum! Brands. What was different? What was the same?

Yum! Brands is a consumer brand that faces the public with different issues than a technology company. We had 50,000 plus restaurants in over 120 countries. This meant that there were different regulations, consumer requirements, and infrastructure capabilities. There were also sustainability concerns.

With Yum! Yum! Genesys does not consider these issues. Genesys’s focus is different from Yum’s. because of different material issues.

But the fundamental truth is that all of us must be focused on what’s important. Software service is crucial, regardless of whether you are a large restaurant chain or a new technology software company. All of us need to be focused on what is important. Leaders need to ask themselves “What are our most important issues?” This can be done by conducting a materiality assessment. Yum! Yum! We needed to identify areas where we could focus our sustainability efforts. To ensure that our growth does not cause more harm, we needed to address them operationally. We must do this while ensuring sustainability, risk reduction, optimal efficiency, and maximum opportunities.

There are certain universal principles that can be applied to materiality. For example, we all have to focus on climate change. After COP26, we recognized that urgency is essential. It’s the same for diversity and equity. No matter what product or service you offer, it is important that everyone ensures global equitable access and that our workforces reflect the diversity of the markets and communities we serve. We live in an inclusive culture. We need to consider how our presence affects our communities, employees, and stakeholders. These key issues will allow us to grow and operate. No matter what industry you are in, there are areas that we can all work together because of our shared values and common interests in equitable access to the environment and climate change.

This is certainly strategy-driven way to zero in on organizational priorities when it comes to ESG. What, from your perspective, should strategy play in driving ESG performance and sustainability performance?

Strategy will always begin with knowledge of the material that is relevant to your business. Companies can be overwhelmed quickly. “Where do you start?” Do I have to do CDP? Or should I do EcoVadis instead? What is GRI? What is the SASB? There are many requirements, guidelines, frameworks and standards. This can cause a lot confusion and angst for some sustainability professionals.

You must begin with what is best for you business. This is only possible if you conduct a materiality assessment to identify your vulnerabilities and risks. This helps you to concentrate on the most important issues, which will be the basis of a gap analysis. Ask yourself the following questions: “Across the most important areas to our business, where is our industry, our competitors and where do I want to be?” You can’t be a leader in all areas. Priorities are important.

Genesys knew exactly where we wanted to be immersed. Moving from premise into cloud. Change how we think about the future of work. Modifying the way we travel. Addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are always other areas to be addressed, so it is important that you establish a pace for yourself. Sustainability is an ever-evolving journey. Solutions today may not be the best tomorrow.

While it is important to seek out opportunities that maximize impact, you must ensure that they are uniquely positioned for your company’s benefit. I don’t want to greenwash anything. I won’t present any information to our company that isn’t good for us.

When it comes to making ESG commitments, you must be honest with yourself and be able to acknowledge that your company may not be ready to make a certain commitment. This is not a bad thing, but it is a transparent reflection of the company’s maturity and where it is at the moment. Genesys is, for example, technically a novice in ESG and trying to compare ourselves against other industry professionals. However, we feel aligned with industry best practice. We are also clear about our “true north”, which is what we are committed to.

Related: ESG Is the Next Frontier — a Conversation With Buro Happold’s Mike Stopka

I would say it is an unusual, almost groundbreaking way to be a novice. Genesys may have a less successful track record in ESG than others, but having a strong foundation that is strategically aligned may help you jumpfrog many other leaders in the space.

There is a delicate balance between how much you say and how hard you push yourself. How aspirational could you be? Sustainability experts will agree that you should be aspirational, inspirational, and not delusional.

We could have made many assertions when we started, but it wouldn’t have served us well. Our commitments should be made public, transparent, and in good faith. We wanted everyone to feel genuine and empathic. We also knew that we had to measure our progress and make it happen. It is important to align your business and understand the consequences so that you can continue moving toward your goals.

Do you have any other advice to companies that are starting out or in the middle of implementing ESG programs?

I am very fortunate because our CEO is so committed to ESG. Sometimes senior executives feel like they are fighting for their head space, prioritization, and commitments. Some companies don’t recognize the importance of sustainability and view it as a box that needs to be checked in response to all the ranking and reporting standards. This focus on reporting can take attention away from the actual impact of ESG. It becomes diluted. When this focus on outcomes is absent, sustainability suffers both from an attrition and retention perspective as well as from innovation and execution perspective.

Things are different at Genesys. It is due to our leadership and the commitment that permeates the organization, I believe. My advice to anyone embarking on an ESG journey: Make sure you do everything you can to make the business case for it to your leadership so that it is ingrained throughout the organization. ESG commitments should be a part of your company’s DNA.

Related: HP CIO Ellen Jackowski Explains Why ESG Is Essential to Corporate Sustainability

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