3 Questions With: Nigel Salter, Founder, Upland

Name: Nigel Salter

Company/Organization: Upland Consulting

Role/Function: Founder and Strategy/Sustainability Adviser

What He’s Currently Working On: I recently stepped away from Salterbaxter, the sustainability strategy, corporate purpose and communications consultancy that I co-founded about 20 years ago, which is now part of Publicis Groupe. I’m now starting a new consultancy called Upland, which has two areas of focus: sustainability strategy and communications, and forming partnerships, initiatives and collaborations that tackle the current global consumption system, which is just crazily unsustainable. We want to work both on a systems level as well as a company level. On the consumption side in particular, there are a lot of really exciting things we want to do around digital content that connects sustainability issues to young, digital consumers. Our plan is to partner with organizations and pull together coalitions to change the way the world thinks about consumption — it’s kind of a mission to force the pace and substance on SDG 12.


1. What was the “aha” moment that sparked your interest in social impact?

I'm afraid I didn't have a moment when I suddenly woke up and started thinking about all of these issues. It was gradual. When we started Salterbaxter back in 1998, I remember feeling like business was too often being described as the bad guy. I felt there was a lot being missed, that business could be a powerful force if it did things right. Sure there was “big, bad business” — but that was the extreme and there was also a big bit in the middle that was actually trying to do the right thing and was starting to wake up and understand the issues.

So that was my moment of understanding — seeing that business was starting to move in the right direction and feeling that we could go and help accelerate it. Rather than the big conversion moment, it was just seeing that the lay of the land was shifting.

And if you look at some of the really impressive things that have happened in the last several years when it comes to social responsibility, these have often been initiated by business. The scale and the organizational capacity they bring to these problems means that when they want to do something, they do it really well.


2. How did you break into the social impact space?

We started Salterbaxter as a communications agency, and our second client was EMI Records. At the time, I didn't fully understand just how sophisticated a company like EMI could be across a range of social responsibility issues. For instance, they had massive problems dealing with the toxic waste from producing CDs. Remember, this is the pre-digital era. EMI was producing CDs and they were just really nasty things. They also had a historical business in lighting.

But even way back then, they were really clear-sighted about what they wanted to do and the ways in which they wanted to improve their impacts and play a more positive role in society. We even won a Design Effectiveness award with them for a program that was all about reducing waste by reusing the off-cut material left behind after printing record and CD sleeve artwork — it was amazingly progressive for a big listed company at the time.

Having EMI as a client proved to Penny (Baxter) and I that there was a significant business need around these issues. From that moment, Salterbaxter moved into what was then called corporate social responsibility — looking at how business could have a better social and environmental impact.

Then in 2006, we were starting to see signs of the financial crisis coming. Most of our friends and advisors were saying, “Yeah, obviously you need to get out of CSR now because clearly that's going to be the first thing to go when the financial crisis hits.” But our belief was the opposite — that it would become even more important that businesses be ethical, that they have social worth, that they have a positive impact, that they support social causes and that they contribute to society. And luckily, that proved to be the case. So from 2007 on, Salterbaxter started focusing only on sustainability and corporate social responsibility issues, helping companies completely rewire themselves for a different stakeholder world.

The fact that you’re now seeing mega-businesses make absolutely huge changes that impact pretty much everybody  — that gets me very excited.
— Nigel Salter

3. What most excites you about social impact these days?

Having just had a break, it’s quite good to think about that question after 20 years. I have to say that as much as I enjoyed it, I was inevitably getting a little bit jaded. But actually, what makes me most excited is that very big businesses are making very big changes. And as much as I love small companies that do amazing things, building from scratch new propositions in social impact… when a huge business makes a commitment, that changes the whole system.

Take H&M and their commitment to go circular, or L’Oreal’s work in packaging and sourcing, or Maersk’s hugely ambitious commitment to decarbonize logistics. The fact that you're now seeing mega-businesses make absolutely huge changes that impact pretty much everybody  — that gets me very excited. There is a real shift from business saying, “we just need to make ourselves look a little bit better” to a proper, fundamental reengineering of operations to deliver completely different outcomes that change how the whole supply chain works. They are realizing that this is not just reputation management and reduction of CO2 emissions — which, of course, everyone needs to do. But it's completely new ways of doing business, completely new ways of operating.

The other thing that's both daunting and exciting is that we still have a very, very long way to go. There are some big problems and challenges out there that need to be solved — in particular, the fact that our global consumption model is unsustainable and completely unfit for purpose. But there are more people in business who understand the sustainability agenda. They understand what sustainability really means and what they should be doing to get it working inside the business world. And if you connect these pieces together — which is partly what we’re trying to do with Upland — if you can bring people together and build coalitions to help tackle some of these issues, it could be very exciting. That’s plenty to keep me motivated in this space.

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3 Questions With: Brandee Butler, Head of Gender Justice & Human Rights, C&A Foundation

Name: Brandee Butler

Company/Organization: C&A Foundation

Role/Function: Head of Gender Justice & Human Rights 

What She’s Currently Working On: I work for C&A Foundation, which has a goal of transforming the apparel industry for the better. Last week, we published an Action Statement on Equity and Inclusion, reflecting our ongoing learning journey and commitment to identify and dismantle various systems of inequality — including gender — that are relevant in our work and to us as colleagues.

We are exploring how we can have a greater impact in our grantmaking by making sure that diverse voices and perspectives, especially those from groups traditionally excluded in decision-making, have a say in our work. For example, that could include looking at systems of oppression around race, caste, class and sexual orientation. While the fashion industry is diverse in many ways, in that it touches so many different countries and communities, are those communities represented at the decision-making level? While the conversation has started and is gaining momentum around issues of gender equality and discrimination, there’s still very little conversation around racial equity, for example.

So we launched an internal committee with representation from all our teams and geographies to explore how the impacts of discrimination and exclusion impact not only our partners and constituents, but also us as colleagues. We have hired Gender at Work, an international network of consultants that promotes cultures of equality, to accompany us on this journey. They are providing support and expertise, and our goal is to have an action plan to present to our leadership early next year.

Credit: C&A Foundation

Credit: C&A Foundation

1. What was the “aha” moment that sparked your interest in social impact?

Travel is often the spark. In college, I did a semester abroad in Ghana. I was a psychology major at the time and if you studied abroad, you had to do a one-month independent project and write a thesis on it. I did mine at the mental institution in Accra. I spent a lot of time interviewing people who worked there and learning about the situation and conditions for patients. The abuse and the indignities that the mentally disabled suffered at that time in Ghana were horrific. Before they ended up at the mental institution, they had been through all sorts of exorcisms, beatings, different forms of torture. Some had been chained to trees because people believed that it was evil spirits occupying them, and that you needed to get the spirits out by any means necessary.

When they got to the hospital, it was severely under resourced and conditions were abhorrent. They were sleeping on floors, they were short of medicine, there were overflowing sewage systems, sometimes they ran out of food. It was really and truly awful.

I had been planning to be a psychologist but at that moment I realised I wanted to play a role in advocating for truly oppressed, marginalized groups of people.

I feel that it’s my job to advocate that resources are invested in the places where they are most needed, and to support the courageous activists who put themselves at such great risk each and every day fighting for causes like anti-slavery and women’s rights.
— Brandee Butler


2. How did you break into the social impact space?

At the time, some of my most powerful examples of advocates were lawyers. So I applied to law school. I knew that I wanted that skill set and that degree as a platform for launching a career in social justice and social impact.

While I was in law school at Yale, I took courses in international human rights, worked summer internships, and did a semester abroad in South Africa researching the HIV crisis. But I still found it difficult once I graduated to get a good job in social justice. Non-profit jobs were very competitive and really low-paying, and I had a lot of student debt. I wondered if it was a viable option for me.

My big break came when I got a fellowship for recent Yale Law School graduates who wanted to break into international human rights. If you had your own funding and could carry it to an organization, who could refuse you? So that opened all the doors. I had already moved to Gabon to deepen my international experience and develop French language skills. I was meant to work with an Italian NGO working with victims of child trafficking, but it ended up folding so I worked at UNICEF for a year on their efforts to prevent sexual exploitation, child trafficking and all forms of exploitation against children.

After the fellowship year, I moved back to the United States and got a job as an attorney working for a non-profit called the Alliance for Children's Rights. I was an advocate for children in the foster care system in Los Angeles who had learning and other disabilities. Then I saw a job posting for a position in philanthropy at the MacArthur Foundation, to help build the international criminal justice system and strengthen human rights institutions in Africa. While I enjoyed the work as an advocate and attorney for children's rights, I was only helping one child at a time and I realized that I wanted to have a more systemic impact. This was an opportunity to learn about the global human rights framework and it was an amazing experience. That launched me into the field of philanthropy, where I’ve been ever since.

It was a very circuitous journey to figure out where I fit, where I could apply my talents, what resonated with me on a personal level, what I found fulfilling and what I was good at. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in philanthropy so early in my career and I feel really proud of the role that I play as a grantmaker. I’m not on the front lines and sometimes that's challenging — I do sometimes feel very removed from the context. That’s the downside, and the risk, in philanthropy. But the upside is that you’re able to view systems and dynamics and issues from a bird's eye view. You're able to make connections between movements, between organizations. I feel that it's my job to advocate that resources are invested in the places where they are most needed, and to support the courageous activists who put themselves at such great risk each and every day fighting for causes like anti-slavery and women’s rights.


3. What most excites you about social impact these days?

The social impact field is more diverse than when I was coming up. There are all sorts of pathways for this generation — interesting hybrid business models, programs for social entrepreneurship and startups that are doing amazing work. Even traditional fields are finding ways to move into social impact. In finance, impact investing is now a popular field. People who would have gone into traditional investing now have a different option.

That’s driven by a demand and a hunger in younger generations. I talk to younger friends and family members and they say that first and foremost, they want to have some kind of positive impact. They’re less concerned with prestige and money and more concerned with the kind of world they live in and the impact they want to have.

Philanthropy has also expanded. It used to be that big industrialists would make their fortune and create foundations — and those institutions still exist and are among the bedrocks of philanthropy, especially in the United States. But now you also have more giving circles, participatory grantmaking platforms, community foundations and direct online giving, in addition to the many private and family foundations that have proliferated. Also promising is the fact that more companies are working social impact into their mission and way of operating, which is a way more effective model. I hope that one day, there won't be a need for philanthropy at all.

3 Questions With: Michael Crooke, Co-Founder of WAYB & Ex-CEO of Patagonia

Name: Michael Crooke

Company/Organization: WAYB

Role/Function: Co-Founder & Chairman

What He’s Currently Working On: We are just now launching WAYB, a company I co-founded with old friends Tio and I.S. Jung. The Jung family built many outdoor products for me over the years while I led outdoor brands and when they approached me with the idea to solve design problems for family gear, I was totally in. Except for one thing, I pushed us to make sustainability a key lens for all business decisions. Just don’t call us sustainable yet, that’s a long journey.

The first product we’re launching is the WAYB Pico—a lightweight travel car seat made of aerospace-grade aluminum. It’s a go-anywhere car seat that’ll let parents keep up an adventurous lifestyle. We focused on aluminum instead of plastic and a high-performance mesh instead of the standard foam that’s stuffed with nasty fire retardant chemicals. Aluminum is a heck of a lot better for the earth than a lot of common materials in baby gear (plastic and foam). For starters, it’s very abundant and easily adaptable. It’s famous for its recyclability. Some estimates reckon that 70-75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use! Material selection is our first big decision in aiming to make sustainable products.

My day job is as a professor at the University of Oregon where I am also the director of the Advanced Strategy and Leadership Certificate in the Oregon MBA program. I teach Advanced Strategy—the last class MBA students take before they graduate. The thesis is that eventual C-Suite leaders must understand finance, sustainability, entrepreneurial thinking, and how to continually make a great product or service. Without an understanding of these four elements it is difficult, if not impossible, to disrupt and create a long-term sustainable advantage.

Check out    WAYB’s Indiegogo campaign    to get 40% off the Pico’s retail price.

Check out WAYB’s Indiegogo campaign to get 40% off the Pico’s retail price.

1. What was the “aha” moment that sparked your interest in social impact? 

I became a Navy SEAL as a teenager, so you could say I had an early call to serve the community. It’s where I really learned about teamwork. My first job in the business world was working with a 120-year old company that practiced sustainable logging, and I saw how new ownership and the subsequent loss of focus on the company’s core values led to decay. The new owners destroyed the land, and then quickly went out of business themselves. They took a whole town down with them when they went bankrupt. At that point, I decided to go get my MBA to figure out what happened. It’s at that point that I realized there’s a much smarter way to do business than being fueled by short-term greed. Great companies use long-term thinking and strategy.

2. How did you break into the social impact space?

I gravitated towards companies that had strong values and found myself in various leadership roles across the outdoor industry. Of course, in this space there’s much more dialogue about conservation, including resourcefulness. The next step was figuring out how to bring that mentality to business operations. In 1999, Patagonia brought me on as CEO.  

Quality was articulated through their Ironclad Guarantee, and Patagonia’s commitment to the environment was clear in their early use of organic cotton and revitalization of 1% for the Planet. The focus turned Patagonia’s customers into fanatics and buoyed the business. The values were actually the secret sauce that lowered customer acquisition cost.

I like to say we are on a path to sustainability. No company is truly sustainable. There’s waste in any company. The bottom line is we have to stay transparent. And transparency means that we have to say what we aren’t, as well as what we are.
— Michael Crooke

3. What most excites you about social impact these days? 

I think a lot about how to set up the next generation for success. Part of that is making sure people find teams and companies where they are a fit, where they can work with “flow”.

You look at the people we’ve pulled together to build this company, the pillars of this company. We have people from Honest Company, Disney, GOOD, Patagonia, PrAna. It’s a group of people who have worked with companies where values matter.

By having values up front, we attract talent that's connected to a bigger purpose. And by having a "could we" culture, we give everyone agency. This creates high levels of trust and autonomy—a connection to higher purpose.

With WAYB, I like to say we are on a path to sustainability. No company is truly sustainable. There’s waste in any company. The bottom line is we have to stay transparent. And transparency means that we have to say what we aren’t, as well as what we are. And there’s a lot of things that we aren’t. We still drive cars to work every day. There’s waste in every single aspect of what we do. But we’re trying to get better, every single day. And that journey is something we want to share with our customers.

"3 Questions With" spotlights fascinating people working across the social impact space. It is published by Reconsidered and shared in our newsletter which goes out to 1,700+ subscribers every other week.

3 Questions With: Danielle Azoulay, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, L'Oréal USA

Name: Danielle Azoulay  

Company/Organization: L'Oréal USA     

Role/Function: Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability

What She’s Currently Working On: 2018 has already been a big year for us. To start, we were able to announce that through an innovative renewable natural gas project we will achieve carbon neutrality for all of L’Oréal’s 19 U.S. Operations facilities by 2019. It was a big undertaking by our motivated teams, who, after helping us surpass our 2020 carbon reduction goals years ahead of schedule and achieve 100 percent renewable electricity, were driven to find a solution to address the thermal needs of our facilities and help us reach an even bigger milestone. This year also marks the deployment of the Sustainable Products Optimization Tool (SPOT) which was designed to measure the overall impacts – both environmental and social – of all L’Oréal products. One hundred percent of new or renovated products – representing more than 2,300 products – were assessed using SPOT in 2017 and we are excited to continue using this methodology to identify avenues for improvement across our brand portfolio.

1. What was the “aha” moment that sparked your interest in social impact? 

I’ve always felt deeply connected to the environment around me, even as kid. When I was 10 years old, I remember writing a letter to President Bush about the impact of acid rain, genuinely expecting him to respond. And, growing up in Miami and experiencing the impact of Hurricane Andrew first-hand only reinforced how connected we as humans are to our environment. These experiences ingrained in me the passion and dedication I feel today to help build responsible, sustainable business practices.

While in school, I researched inspirational people that I thought were doing meaningful work and reached out to them ... If you are a student, reach out to the people you look up to. They just may be willing to give you some time that may provide you with the insights you need to figure out where you fit in this fight.
— Danielle Azoulay

2. How did you break into the social impact space?

I was lucky to have been able to break into the space by chance; after my company was acquired by a much bigger organization, I received an opportunity to transition roles and join their CSR team. I finished my Masters in Environmental Conservation and Education from NYU and was able to help them maintain a more ethical and sustainable supply chain, something I continue to do today at L'Oréal USA. 

While in school, I researched inspirational people that I thought were doing meaningful work and reached out to them. Because I was a student, I was able to learn from these people and ultimately do some independent research work or simply connect with them on a phone call.  People were extremely generous with their time when I was in school and so I try to give back to the next generation of sustainability leaders when I can.

If you are a student, reach out to the people you look up to. They just may be willing to give you some time that may provide you with the insights you need to figure out where you fit in this fight. 

3. What most excites you about social impact these days? 

Ultimately, it’s about working closely together, sharing best practices and discussing creative solutions to help lift up the entire CPG industry. Whether it’s identifying ways to reduce waste and improve packaging or figuring out how to collaborate on educating consumers, it’s clear that the collective impact will be far greater when we all bring our best ideas to the table.

"3 Questions With" spotlights fascinating people working across the social impact space. It is published by Reconsidered and shared in our newsletter which goes out to 1,700+ subscribers every other week.