It was an electric start to Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit in New York yesterday, with a programme full of inspiring, thought-provoking speakers. In a city that survives on takeaways, here are eight of the tastiest morsels from the first day:

1 “People don’t care how much you know until they know you care,” said Baltimore Gas & Electric’s CEO Calvin G Butler Jr, talking about the importance of companies gaining the confidence of communities through volunteering programmes. As the only African-American CEO in the city, he was also able to help turn down the heat when parts of the city were plunged into violence after Freddie Gray’s death in police custody last year. By engaging with their communities in a meaningful way, companies make deposits to the bank of goodwill that they can withdraw from when things do go wrong.

2 “It’s not about writing a cheque. It’s about innovation and working with partners,” was how Jim G Vella, president of the Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services, described his approach to funding community projects that empower communities and are sustainable in the long term. He said he had a seat on the board, and had to show how the fund’s activities added value to Ford, rather than cost. “The world today is demanding this of you,” he told delegates. “Those that get it will succeed, those that don’t will not.”

3 “Cities are where hope meets the street,” said Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, declaring that the Trump administration’s retrograde approach to climate change and environment was not a cause for despair, but a call to action. Reed said American mayors were working in partnership with companies to take decisive action to cut their CO2 emissions, regardless of who is in the White House. In fact, Trump may be having a positive impact, “galvanising people who may otherwise have been bickering about small things.”

4 “Because of its size, something is always going wrong in our supply chain but if we have the right people and systems in place” we can minimise risk, said Tom Glaser, global president of supply at VF Corporation. He said the business case for sustainable sourcing easily added up, with cost savings from using less water and energy, productivity savings from having a healthier and more stable workforce, and the human resource benefits of being able to attract and retain employees. “Millennials want to work for a company that has purpose and value more than working for a capitalist machine.”

5 “We now own progress on greenhouse gas emissions. All of these costs [to cut our carbon footprint] now flow through to our business,” said Christine Cioffe, SVP global R&D for PepsiCo, explaining how PepsiCo is making sustainability integral to its business.

6 “Our power as a business is in showing what’s possible,” said Erin Meezan, chief sustainability officer for Interface, explaining the carpet tile maker’s strategy to meet its new goal, set last year, of going beyond net zero to having a carbon negative impact on the planet. She gave the example of the challenge she set the innovation team to bring to market a tile that sequesters carbon. “The second we set that intent they identified 30-40 commercial products that could be used as materials… It’s about setting a really high bar and pulling in external experts to help us do it.”

7 “Today 75% of the commerce of the world is still cash. Fintech is only getting at the beginning of that,” said Franz W Paasche, SVP, corporate affairs and communications for Paypal, as he explained why the online payment service sees opportunity in providing financial services to under-served communities, including those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. “There are opportunities for our ecosystem that benefits everyone, and enables all kind of economic activity.”

8 “Sustainability when it’s done right can cost less [than business as usual]. We are moving from ‘do less harm’, to ‘do no harm’, to ‘let’s leave things better than we found them’,” said Oliver Campbell, director of worldwide procurement and packaging engineering at Dell, outlining Dell’s move to use recovered ocean plastics in its packaging.


See our eight key takeaways from Responsible Business Summit New York day two here.

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