With the recession sapping money from corporate social-responsibility programs at many companies, it would seem that efforts to ensure environment-friendly business operations and a diverse workplace would be in competition for the same dollars.
They don’t have to be, diversity advocates say.
Going Green is just one aspect of corporate social responsibility, which generally is defined as the integration of a company’s business operations and values. Under this definition, the interests of all of the company’s “stakeholders”— investors, customers, employees, the community and the environment — are reflected in its policies and actions. Diversity, be it workplace or supplier diversity, fits into this broader corporate concern for social responsibility, many now argue.
Sheena Wright, president and chief executive officer of the Abyssinian Development Corp. in Harlem, New York City’s historically African-American cultural mecca, says corporations can meet their twin goals of a greener and a more ethnically diverse workplace even now, by training the sizable work pool of unemployed Blacks in skills that will enhance the corporate environmental profile. “When you give people the appropriate training, it solves the two problems,” she says, adding that diversity advocates should make this connection with the environmental movement in their pitch to corporations.
Yolanda Caraway, a diversity consultant with such clients as Microsoft and other Fortune 500 companies, agrees. Linking the Green programs and diversity is “a great opportunity” for diversity advocates, says Caraway, who is president and chief executive officer of The Caraway Group. Black-focused non-profits could recoup some of the corporate funding they are losing because of the recession by beginning Green job-training efforts, she says. They could also shift some of their limited resources from other programs, such as after-school activities, to those efforts, she suggests.
Diane Osgood, vice president for strategy at Business for Social Responsibility, a leading nonprofit focused on corporate social betterment, says there is little, if any, competition between Green and diversity goals because the budgets for the two goals are funded from different sources. “Smart companies understand it would be a step backwards to reduce budgets for diversity and environmental achievement because there is ample evidence that both of these types of programs improve company performance and cut costs,” she says.
Green jobs are open to people with a wide range of abilities, from entry-level, blue-collar workers to policymakers, she notes. And because companies recognize that environment-friendly initiatives are often key to improving corporate performance, there is ample opportunity for advancement. “It’s a great career path. That’s where you want to be,” Osgood says.
Businesses across the board are gearing up to go after the roughly $10 billion available for Green programs in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year. Beyond that, a good chunk of the small amount of capital companies are currently spending is going toward upgrading energy efficiency at company facilities in order to help keep costs low when fuel prices start their inevitable upturn. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently estimated the number of Green jobs will more than triple in the next 10 years to 2.5 million.
Corporations are also creating Green jobs that potentially will see high minority workforce component because better environment-conscious qualities in their products give them a competitive advantage with customers of almost all demographics.