Baltimore Utility Chief Emphasizes CSR Following Freddy Gray Death

By Dave Armon, 3BL Media
Mar 27, 2017 12:15 PM ET

Freddy Gray’s death while in the custody of Baltimore police pushed the riot-torn city’s only African America big company CEO into action, emphasizing corporate social responsibility to heal the scab that had been ripped off the community.

Baltimore Gas & Electric chief Calvin G. Butler Jr. said the 2015 death and racial strife pushed the 200-year-old utility to use the power of procurement in partnership with service providers and nonprofits to hire and train more people from inner city neighborhoods.

“The economic divide was getting wider and wider,” Butler said of simmering racial tensions that boiled over following Gray’s death, adding that civic leaders galvanized to open up additional economic opportunities for many who had previously been excluded.

The company joined a Ford Motor Company program, Men of Courage, celebrating the accomplishments of African American men with the goal of strengthening communities and creating positive social change, said Butler.

Working with Johns Hopkins University, the utility tweaked the scorecards used for purchasing services so firms staffed with residents from local neighborhoods would be given preference, said Butler.

“If you want to do business with us, that’s a prerequisite for is,” said Butler, adding that he felt obligated to act because of his stature as the only black CEO of a large company in Baltimore at the time of Gray’s death and heightened focus on racial justice in the city.

CSR is clearly comfortable territory for Butler, whose speech at Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit in Brooklyn today was punctuated with statistics about Baltimore Gas & Electric’s social and environmental achievements.

The workforce of 3,200 contributed 22,000 hours of volunteer work in the community last year, Butler said.  A 2008 goal of reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 was achieved in 2013.

Gas and electric ratepayers generally only think of the utility, a regulated monopoly and wholly owned subsidiary of Exelon Corp., when there is a service disruption, Butler acknowledged. The goal of the company’s CSR initiatives is to establish a bond with customers beyond the monthly bill.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Butler said, crediting Maya Angelou.