“When people think of sustainability, they often think about the environmental aspect,” said Joe Lawless, executive director for the Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility. “That’s a piece of it, but it’s really about sustaining business.” And that’s a three-part process, he said: Being environmentally responsible (reducing risk), being good to employees (long-term cost reduction) and being good to shareholders (generating profit).
Doing the right thing provides a safety net when things go wrong, said Lawless. “If you’re invested in engaging your stakeholders and employees, and investing in your values as a company, that is really an insurance policy against reputation risk.”
With an eye on developing the next generation of thoughtful business leaders, CLSR offers programs that hone leadership skills and enhance understanding of social responsibility, including career workshops and student case competitions. A board governance course matches students with local nonprofits so they can gain practical knowledge of governance in action. In addition to its online Certificate in Sustainable Business, the center now offers undergraduates a minor in corporate responsibility, a recent development that’s drawn enthusiasm from students and business people alike.
For businesses and organizations, the center offers the annual Corporate Social Responsibility Conference. An advisory board representing a variety of corporate and academic interests offers guidance, advocates for the center’s programs and provides insights into real-world applications of social responsibility. Plans are in the works for a Corporate Responsibility Forum for business leaders in February. The inaugural forum will focus on the positive environmental, social and economic impacts businesses have on the community, and offer strategies for corporate responsibility. Lawless hopes the event will spark a regional conversation that boosts the positive impacts companies have on the South Sound while recognizing efforts to reduce the negative ones.
“It’s important to bring people together and have conversations,” Lawless said. “Corporate responsibility is a broad brush. We plan to find out what people want to hear about and what’s most important to them.”
Collaboration, excellence marked Gaines’ tenure at TPU