Seeking Sustainability Loyalty: Debbie Baxter of LoyaltyOne Talks CSR (Part 3 of 3)
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
For Canadian CSR professionals, LoyaltyOne is best known for its employee engagement and community investment programs. The green office space in Mississauga and Calgary doesn't hurt either. It should not have surprised me that my idea for one article on the company's CSR work turned into a three-part series. In order to do justice to the efforts of Debbie Baxter, Chief Sustainability Officer and her team, one article is simply not enough. In this final segment of my conversation with Ms. Baxter, I ask for her insights into the CSR landscape in Canada and what we can expect down the road.
CSR... So Far
"There's been a tremendous amount of progress among Canadian companies," Baxter observes. "Looking back four years, if you spoke to business leaders about corporate sustainability, you would risk being met with a very blank stare." "Sustainability has become a topic that almost all business leaders understand depending on the size of the challenge." She clarifies that, as a marketing services company LoyaltyOne's footprint is smaller than most. Some companies like those in the resource industry have bigger challenges and it is much tougher to get through the sustainability journey.
Baxter reflects on the recent growth in sustainability jobs. The big brands all understand the value of corporate sustainability. There is also recognition of the creative and impactful results that come out of sustainability programs. In some cases though, momentum has been reached and things slow down. Baxter notes that once all the low hanging fruit have been picked, what follows is more sophisticated improvement challenges as we embed change in the core business. "The next projects are tougher to implement and track. Things are moving slower because they are larger in cost and time commitment and more challenging to implement."
Counting the benefits...
"For LoyaltyOne, CSR has been very good for business." Baxter explains that CSR drives the company's recruiting brand and employee retention. LoyaltyOne has been one of the Best Employers in Canada list for the past three years-and that matters. Baxter happily notes that in a recent survey, 94% of associates take pride in the company's corporate environmental and community investment work.
Sustainability has also been built into some of its loyalty offerings. Specifically AIR MILES® My Planet rewards program, where consumers can redeem points towards products such as composters, energy offsets, transit passes and other products that help collectors live more sustainably. AIR MILES® for Social Change (AMSC) helps customers earn miles for their socially responsible choices, such as buying a transit pass or donating to charity.
The future of CSR in Canada
For Baxter, sustainability in the future will become ubiquitous. She uses the Internet as an example to explain her point. "A couple of decades ago we had Internet conferences and listened to thought leaders about how to embed the technology into business. Today it is offered for free at Starbucks. Sustainability will be exactly the same: become something that is embedded in everyday business processes."
To Baxter, the future of CSR landscape is also linked to innovation. Currently, many consumers don't always want to pay for something just because it's green, but almost always will pay more for an innovative product. "Green will move from being judged on its own, to being a sub-category to innovation." She explains. I ask for clarification, Baxter obliges me. "For a product to be innovative it saves money for example, it can be a new application of an old idea. Innovative products are increasingly also sustainable. Would anyone introduce a new product today that uses more gas and expect it to be successful?"
This is the third and final segment of a three-part series on LoyaltyOne's corporate responsibility initiatives, as part of an interview with Debbie Baxter, Chief Sustainability Officer.
Read Part 1 the evolution of LoyaltyOne's corporate responsibility program.
Read Part 2 LoyaltyOne's environmental and community investment initiatives.
Image: Debbie Baxter, Lorne Solway Associate VP, Marketing & Andy Wright President, AIR MILES® Reward Program (2012), courtesy of LoyaltyOne