WASHINGTON — There was a time not all that many years ago when corporate social responsibility (CSR) was viewed by most companies as a second- or third-tier priority, something good to do but not a central part of the business model.
That thinking has changed radically in recent years, with CSR taking its rightful place as a strategic pillar that plays a large part in establishing an organization’s guiding ethos.
Few companies exemplify the integral place CSR has come to assume in the minds of management, employees and customers as well as Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. The company late last month formally unveiled its annual CSR report for fiscal 2016 at a reception at the Newseum, which is dedicated to explaining and defending free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment — religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.
The report, which was introduced by WBA executive vice chairman and chief executive officer Stefano Pessina, co-chief operating officer Ornella Barra, vice president of corporate social responsibility Richard Ellis and leaders from two partner charitable organizations, highlights the company’s ongoing support for people in its communities and workplaces, and overall progress toward its environmental and social goals.
The speakers reiterated that WBA strives to be a global leader in caring for communities and the environment, reflecting its purpose to help people around the world lead healthier and happier lives.
The company made significant strides in CSR accountability in 2016, reporting metrics that will serve as the baseline for evaluating future progress. For the first time since it was created in December 2014, WBA collected data across all of its businesses — a massive undertaking for a company with retail and wholesaling operations in more than 25 countries around the world — on charitable contributions, carbon emissions, energy usage, waste disposal, employee retention and employee gender.
“Our company is full of inspiring stories of social and environmental responsibility,” said Barra, who heads WBA’s CSR efforts. “I feel immensely proud of these initiatives, which show how much our people care and which are embedded in the work we do every day. We have set ourselves 12 challenging goals connected with our business activities and are excited to report on our progress.”
In the 2016 report, the company maps its CSR goals against the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. WBA’s commitment to those targets was recognized last year when the UN Foundation honored the company with its Global Leadership Award. The award highlighted, in part, the accomplishments of Walgreens’ highly impactful “Get a Shot. Give a Shot” initiative, which provides lifesaving vaccines to children in developing countries through the foundation’s Shot@Life campaign.
WBA has built on the strong CSR tradition of its legacy companies, leveraging its global scale to make a difference in programs to reduce environmental impact and champion health and well-being around the world. The company has identified 12 strategic goals connected to its business and to its four key CSR areas: community, environment, marketplace and workplace.
WBA’s senior leaders are fully committed to CSR, an essential part of building trust in the company’s brands. In addition to Pessina, Barra and Ellis, many other key WBA executives, including co-chief executive officer Alex Gourlay, attended the event in Washington. Several members of Congress and staff members also were present.
“We truly embrace our corporate and social responsibility, and we embed it in how we operate our company as a sustainable and profitable enterprise,” commented Pessina. “As a health care champion, for us there is a strong commercial as much as moral imperative to be a good corporate citizen. Assessment, measurement and monitoring of social and environmental impact are built into our operating initiatives, procedures and our consideration of new contracts or corporate opportunities. Delivery against these policies is implemented in our daily work, in our businesses around the globe.”
WBA took the occasion to announce the appointment of Kevin Walgreen as deputy vice president of CSR at WBA, reporting to Ellis. Previously Walgreen was a senior vice president of pharmacy and retail operations at Walgreens.