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Posted: September 01, 2010

Guest column: best practices for structuring corporate responsibility programs

By Sarah Martinez

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As we have all seen in recent years, being a good corporate citizen has become more and more important on companies' agendas, and many corporate leaders are seeking to integrate corporate responsibility programs into their core business practices.

But in practice, it can sometimes be a struggle to implement successful programs with both internal and external engagement. In our experience, CR programs must be incorporated in a wide array of company activities, both internally and externally. Otherwise, the value in partaking in these initiatives is greatly diminished.

Without cohesive senior executive support and employee engagement, CR efforts would fail at nearly every organization. The lack of these components is a missed opportunity for employers, as stated in a recent report issued by the Center for Creative Leadership (www.ccl.org), which confirms that corporate responsibility programs are linked to how committed an employee is to an employer.

It is therefore crucial to engage and communicate with employees regarding CR initiatives and plans. At ProLogis, we take both a top-down and a bottom-up approach to CR, which has helped us gain the internal support needed to grow our program.

For example, at the highest level of our organization, on the board of trustees, we created a corporate responsibility committee. Three members preside on this committee and take an active role in setting the CR strategy, establishing company goals and benchmarking performance.

We also have a chief sustainability officer, who, at the executive level, makes decisions related to our day-to-day CR programs and manages our in-house CR team. This team comprises dedicated associates whose primary focus is on managing our programs and furthering ProLogis' corporate responsibility efforts.

For instance, we have a vice president of corporate responsibility who manages all aspects of our CR program, including tracking and managing ProLogis' carbon footprint, coordinating our community engagement efforts and managing our Corporate Responsibility Champion program.

We developed this program to tap into our employees' energy and ideas at a grass-roots level. It involved identifying one person in each of our more than 100 offices worldwide to volunteer to help further the company's CR efforts on a local level. Specifically, this includes minimizing each individual field office's impact on the environment and contributing to the local communities in which we operate.

These CR Champions create a network that helps us to elevate awareness of corporate responsibility within the company, improve corporate responsibility-related communication and reduce the impact of our operations on the environment.

By addressing CR at all levels of the organization, we have begun to integrate a CR ethic into all that we do. Our employees care about our program, and they are instrumental in moving it forward. Considering our experience with this structure, we would highly recommend that the first steps taken to create a CR program should be to establish a strong, internal structure.

There are many ways in which a company can communicate its CR efforts externally, and these efforts greatly help to establish credibility as a good corporate citizen.

One popular method is to issue an annual report that gives updates on the progress of a business' CR efforts. In most cases, reports are published in accordance with standards set by the Global Reporting Initiative, meaning they are also qualified by a third party. ProLogis has completed GRI reports each year since 2007, and we believe that this process has helped us to document and formalize our CR program.

In addition to a GRI report, we communicate regularly about our progress via our website, press releases and at conferences and meetings. This has helped to enhance the transparency of our efforts with our employees and external shareholder groups.

If implemented strategically, companies have tremendous potential to spread positive influence in remarkable ways. I strongly believe that CR efforts are here for the long run. Stakeholders will increasingly evaluate companies based on their CR programs, and these programs will become even more tightly woven into corporations' business structure.

Now is the time for businesses to actively engage and implement programs that will last a lifetime.

Sarah Martinez is vice president, corporate responsibility, for 
ProLogis, the world's largest owner of warehouses and distribution properties.
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