Exclusive Q&A with PwC Corporate Responsibility Chief
Published in Partnership with Forbes.com.
In a recent interview with Shannon Schuyler, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Corporate Responsibility Leader, Rahim Kanani asked about the evolution of CSR within PwC, what their main initiatives and priorities were, how they measure impact, and much more.
- PwC’s corporate responsibility commitment centers on three themes: youth education, inclusion and climate change.
- Internally, we have launched a series of dashboards to track data —from community service hours to carbon emissions—that can be analyzed by activity, region, office, sector and staff class.
- I believe the role of the CR leader, chief responsibility officer or chief sustainability officer—however a company labels the function—will evolve to a role similar to that of chief financial officer. The CFO is embedded in decision-making at all levels of the company and serves as a chief strategy advisor to the CEO.
Rahim Kanani: How has the idea of corporate responsibility evolved over the years at PwC?
Shannon Schuyler: As a firm, we’ve had a strong culture of giving for a long time through philanthropy and community service, but these initiatives were not integrated into an overarching strategy.
In 2007, I presented a white paper that focused on how to align various aspects of employee volunteerism, firm-driven community investment, talent development and environmental stewardship. I believed that if our firm could determine how to embed corporate responsibility into our business strategy, we could differentiate ourselves. And not only with current and future talent but with the communities where we live and work and the marketplace at large. Ultimately, we could elevate brand loyalty and revenue growth while supporting a sustainable future.
This, in effect, launched our formal corporate responsibility commitment that focuses on four pillars: marketplace, people, community and the environment. Today, we’ve moved well beyond checkbook philanthropy. We regularly ask ourselves: How can we connect CR to our overarching business goals and make a real impact? How can we provide growth and service opportunities for our people while also benefiting society? The secret is asking the right questions, concentrating on business alignment and providing choices so people feel empowered to contribute in their own individual ways.
Rahim Kanani: As head of corporate responsibility, what are some of your main initiatives and priorities?
Shannon Schuyler: PwC’s corporate responsibility commitment centers on three themes: youth education, inclusion and climate change.
- Youth Education: Within education, we focus on supporting youth education, specifically around math and financial literacy. This summer, we launched our signature education commitment, PwC’s Earn Your Future. It represents a $160 million investment—comprising $60 million in cash donations and one million service hours valued at $100 million—that will impact more than 2.5 million students and educators in the United States over the next five years. With this multimillion-dollar investment, we are leveraging our 35,000 people and their skill sets to improve the financial competency and education of youth around the country. One of my major priorities these next several years will be to see this initiative come to life – to ensure it impacts classrooms and develops more financially responsible citizens.
- Inclusion: PwC has an amazingly talented and diverse workforce. Our diversity stands among our strengths that make our company a great place to work. It’s a real spark to our high-performing culture. We support diversity on every level, whether it’s national or market-based, and we have a network of professionals who commit to supporting our inclusion efforts every day. We’re very focused on attracting, developing and advancing talented people. And we provide training, tools and resources – such as affinity groups – to ensure that diversity continues as a distinguishing part of our culture.
- Climate Change: When we first calculated our carbon footprint in 2007, we didn’t know the size of our environmental impact. We discovered that our operations make a considerable impression. The most substantial aspects of our footprint are the result of air travel, energy use and employee commuting. Once we understood our impacts, we engineered solutions to reduce them. Today, our goal involves decreasing our overall climate footprint by 30 percent from 2007 levels. We can’t achieve this goal by decree; success requires us to embed actions and metrics across each of our lines of service and within our people’s everyday experiences so we all play a part in helping protect the climate.
Rahim Kanani: What drove PwC to focus on those efforts in particular?
Shannon Schuyler: We chose these areas because they make sense for our business and they make a positive difference to the communities where we live and work.
With youth education, we’re leveraging our core skill set. We employ thousands of financial experts whose knowledge can help bridge the gaps around financial literacy. When teachers don’t have the confidence to teach the subject and students don’t have the financial skills to succeed, we see an opportunity to engage our people and our resources to benefit our next generation of leaders and the business community as a whole.
Our focus on diversity leverages the unique backgrounds and individual experiences of our workforce to add value to our business. Our approach reflects our belief that each of us has a personal accountability to succeed in this.
As for climate change, we believe every company, organization and individual can contribute to a healthier environment. Environmental sustainability equates to long-term business sustainability, so we are looking at ways to reduce our emissions and energy use. We’re examining everything from our commuting and teleconferencing to supply-chain management to identify ways to reduce our impact. In many cases we’re finding ways that we can save money and reduce our climate impacts – that’s when we know that we’re focused in the right place!
Rahim Kanani: And how are you measuring your success?
Shannon Schuyler: Internally, we have launched a series of dashboards to track data —from community service hours to carbon emissions—that can be analyzed by activity, region, office, sector and staff class. These measures help us review, set priorities and put into operation our CR efforts while providing our leadership with a tangible way to track progress and business value. This also allows us to support accountability in a manner more closely aligned with business reporting. Externally, we report on our performance through our CR Report.
Specifically around PwC’s Earn Your Future, we recognize the importance of staying accountable to our commitment to impact more than 2.5 million youth and educators. We launched it at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America and we intend to update our commitment at CGI America’s annual meeting over the next five years.
In the short term, we will measure the output and impact of our commitment through these metrics:
- The number of youth engaged
- The number of educators trained to teach the curricula
- The number of PwC people who have taught the curricula
- The number of times PwC’s Financial Literacy Curricula is used in schools
These impacts will be measured using a range of tools, including:
- Assessments distributed pre- and post-classroom lessons (using PwC’s Financial Literacy Curricula) and teacher seminars
- Tracking the number of downloads and requests for PwC’s Financial Literacy Curricula via our website and partner websites
- Gathering impact reports from PwC markets, nonprofit partners and schools
We will use these metrics to understand our impact over time. We are considering key measurement criteria for youth, which include:
- Percentage increase in financial literacy
- Percentage engaged in financially responsible behaviors
- Percentage increase in confidence about their financial future
For teachers, we will look at the numbers who regularly use PwC’s Financial Literacy Curricula and the increase in those seeking opportunities to learn more about financial literacy.
Rahim Kanani: One of the trends I’ve noticed is that social impact objectives are being more and more integrated into regular business operations rather than guided by a department of corporate responsibility. In that context, how would you define the future of business?
Shannon Schuyler: It’s exciting to see a growing number of businesses embrace sustainability or corporate responsibility as an important driver of business performance. At PwC, it certainly is integrated into the fabric of the firm as a priority for each of our functions.
I believe the role of the CR leader, chief responsibility officer or chief sustainability officer—however a company labels the function—will evolve to a role similar to that of chief financial officer. The CFO is embedded in decision-making at all levels of the company and serves as a chief strategy advisor to the CEO. I expect the CR role will become increasingly sophisticated and integrated into all business units and key operational functions. As we’ve come to find out, changing habits and behaviors is often the hardest nut to crack. So to us, success means engaging all of our people across the U.S. around a unified approach to socially and environmentally responsible efforts. And that’s something that happens over time, not overnight.
It’s important to note, however, that a lot more remains for our business to do in this space. At PwC, we have a growing Sustainable Business Solutions practice that works with clients to advance sustainable business practices. Our SBS team provides tremendous expertise in advancing the governance, performance measures, data management and reporting needed to integrate responsible business practices effectively.
Rahim Kanani: What are some of the challenges to leading a department of responsibility with respect to balancing organizational priorities with the ambition of driving real progress?
Shannon Schuyler: My team and I talk often about three challenges:
First is staying laser-focused on advancing agendas that are material to our business. We could be doing a lot of things and we are asked to support a tremendous number of initiatives and causes. But we’ve looked at what matters to our business and we are working to concentrate on those so we can scale our efforts and make a meaningful difference in youth education, diversity and climate protection.
Second is the pace of progress. Sometimes we want to be sprinters when this work is better suited to marathon runners. We need to ensure we’re advancing agendas that provide long-term value to our business and society. That takes time and patience.
Third is measuring impact and return on investment. This isn’t always easy when assessing sustainability initiatives. Sometimes—such as when investing in energy efficiency—the payback period is clear. In other circumstances, such as our investment in youth education, the payback is long-term and societal in nature. We can improve quantifying the full costs and value of corporate responsibility.
Rahim Kanani: Imagine you sat down with your corporate responsibility counterparts at Deloitte Touche, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. Collectively, you represent more than $100 billion in annual revenue. What would you like to do together?
Shannon Schuyler: It might surprise you to know that we do collaborate and work together to ensure our industry is doing the right things and using our collective resources. One area ripe for collaboration is the advancement of integrated reporting. While broad sustainability reporting is being elevated in C-suite discussions, many executives don’t see a direct link to financial reporting. Including nonfinancial data with financial information helps tell a more comprehensive story about business performance. But we need consistent and industry-socialized standards for reporting nonfinancial data. As an industry, we can come together to work with companies to advance integrated reporting with thoughtful audit, assurance and validation. This will ensure both financial and nonfinancial data are reported fully and credibly.