As an increasingly larger number of multinational organizations begin to place greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability, the roles, responsibilities, and goals of those in charge of the effort continue to evolve. Whereas sustainability leaders may have been siloed early on in an organization, today these practitioners are finding themselves with a seat at the table in boardrooms, often tasked with rallying the troops throughout the company to support and execute far-reaching sustainability initiatives as well as learning to set key performance indicators (KPIs) and establishing reporting mechanisms to demonstrate meaningful growth to shareholders, stakeholders, government entities, and the public at large.
Mary Tullis Engvall, Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility at Cigna, a global health service company which offers health, pharmacy, dental, supplemental insurance and Medicare plans to individuals, families, and businesses, has experienced such an evolution. Her initial role at Cigna was placed in the communications department under the chief of marketing, yet today she finds her department residing under the umbrella of Human Resources.
Mary chats with Convoy’s Head of Sustainability, Jennifer Wong, to share details of Cigna’s sustainability evolution both from the perspective of how the department was structured and where it sits to how they decide on what to focus their efforts on, how to establish pillars, set goals, measure achievements, and keep moving forward. Her key takeaways are below.
- What the senior director of corporate responsibility at Cigna actually does: Focuses on the strategy, goals and metrics, and performance reporting of the company’s environment, social, and governance initiatives. All of this is done through the lens of the company’s missions and stakeholder’s expectations. While this role doesn’t do any of the work that is reported on, it is responsible to help weave it all together, make sure the company is going in the right direction and determine where Cigna has the expertise and resources to make a difference. (0:47)
- Where this role sits within Cigna: Originally, this role was in communications but after restructuring, marketing took over communications. When Cigna recently acquired Express Scripts, there was another restructuring of the company and the decision was made to move it into HR. (2:22)
- Where Cigna is in its sustainability journey today: It all started on the communications side with what are the table stakes. What should we be doing that maybe some of our competitors are doing that we’re not doing yet? And a lot of the focus was on transparency because we are doing all this work, but how do we get that information visible so stakeholders and raters and rankers can see it? The initial step was getting that stake in the ground of pulling it all together under Cigna Connects, our approach to corporate responsibility. We view this through the lens of our mission focused on the health of people, the environment, and communities. Where can we make a difference where we are the company to do that because of our expertise, because of our resources, because of our mission? This is where we developed our strategic platform, which has three focus areas: 1) health and wellbeing, 2) the environment, and 3) responsible inclusive business. (4:33)
- Significant accomplishments to date: We became the first US health insurance company to become a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact. We have had our greenhouse gas emissions verified by a third party now for four years. (7:13)
- Setting targets to continue to guide the effort: We now need to set targets. We’ve had environmental targets, we definitely have some business-related targets, around what Cigna does as a company. We have targets around opioid prescribing reduction and then overdose reduction, and things of that nature. Now we’re really looking to take those three pillars of health and wellbeing, the environment, and responsible inclusive business and have meaningful, measurable, long-term targets, within each of those pillars. (7:27)
- How Cigna values sustainability to have invested in it for so many years: We have a strong stakeholder perspective and so, as topics bubble up outside our four walls, we hear them very early. Ten years ago, all of these topics were starting to really be seen by stakeholders as more than window dressing. This was no longer just about doing good. This is operating your business in the right way and making sure that you are really focused on all the ways you can achieve your mission and improve society at the same time. (9:03)
- Why it’s so important to take sustainability so seriously: Stakeholders are holding companies’ feet to the fire and whether you are talking about labor issues or ethics issues or environmental issues or diversity, equity and inclusion issues, your feet are being held to the fire. When you have that real stakeholder engagement, you’re able to see it differently. You’re able to see this effort not as a box ticking exercise but as this is what’s going on. We approach all of these things through that lens of health and wellbeing and peace of mind, so that kind of whole body health, and everything we look at we say, you know, what’s our role here, instead of just making sure we’re in compliance. (10:00)
- What it will take to have more companies make larger investments in sustainability: Stakeholders demanding it. There are absolutely companies — especially ones with CEOs that are very purpose driven — who embrace it, but I really think what is moving the needle on this are stakeholders speaking up loud and clear. The work that Black Rock has done this past year by really changing it from a philosophical approach to how they look at companies in a very formal assessment approach and using ESG as a proxy for good management. What the investor community is doing right now is making all of this very real for companies. And certainly employees, customers, clients, and the whole concept of supply chain sustainability where our clients are asking us everyday in every RFP about these issues, because they want to do business with companies that are like-minded. I really feel that the employees are going to be driving this, especially post-pandemic. What’s happened this year in our world and the health crisis we are facing and the social justice issues we all need to be addressing, employees have really understood their role and found their voice and want to be part of really positive change and I think they will drive it from the inside. (11:30)
Watch the video or read the transcription below.
Jennifer: Can you tell me about your role and responsibilities as the senior director of corporate responsibility at Cigna?
Mary: Sure. I’d love to do that. While it may seem like, you know, just a quick overview, I think its actually a really critical question because this area goes by a lot of different names and is structured very differently from company to company, and peoples’ roles and responsibilities are different. So, I think it will be helpful for the audience to kind of, you know, hear how we do it at Cigna. So as the lead for corporate responsibility, my role is to focus on the strategy and then the goals and metrics, and then the performance reporting of the company’s environment, social, and governance initiatives. And all of that is done through the lens of the company’s missions and stakeholder’s expectations. So as I like to tell people, I don’t do any of the work that I report on, but, you know, its my job to, you know, kind of help weave it all together, make sure that we are going in the right directions that are material to our industry where we do have stakeholder expectations. And where we have, probably most importantly, the expertise and the resources to make a difference.
Jennifer: [2:00] And like you mentioned, this area of sustainability or corporate responsibility is different for every company. Can you share more about how your team is structured, where you are in the Cigna organization? Especially since you’re so centrally organized in terms of the work you’re accomplishing.
Mary: Sure. Yeah, and I think, again, this is kind of on trend. So, originally, I was brought in 8 years ago to really kind of stand up a formal corporate responsibility platform and to start doing annual ESG reporting. I was in communications at the time and so that’s kind of where this sat and then we had a little bit of restructuring and marketing kind of took over communications. So, technically, I was in marketing. And actually, ended up kind of, you know, continuing to move along in my career at Cigna and ended up reporting to our chief marketing office. When Cigna recently acquired Express Scripts, we did another, kind of, restructuring of the company. And the decision was made at that time to take that area and move it into HR. And so, we now sit in HR, as does the community work. So, our civic affairs team and our philanthropy work, so, our Cigna foundation team. And all of us were merged with diversity, equity, and inclusion. So that is now one large area that sits under a VP in human resources.
Jennifer: That makes so much sense and I would agree. It’s different for every company but I think the journey that you shared makes a lot of sense in terms of the evolution of the company and how sustainability is really playing a bigger part [4:00] in the strategy moving forward.
Mary: Yeah, exactly. So, yeah, you can kind of see it kind of started out on the reputation side of things and really has kind of moved into very much the core of, this is how we do business.
Jennifer: Can you tell me more about Cigna’s sustainability plan and priorities? I assume it’s evolved throughout the years, over the past 8 years since you’ve been there to kind of lead this for the organization, but where are you in your sustainability journey today?
Mary: Sure. Yeah, great question. As everyone who does this know, it is a journey. And its always changing but, you know, have heart if you’re at the beginning stages if you keep plucking away, you will continue to move forward. So, again, as I mentioned, you know, kind of started in the communications side I think, you know, with more interest in, you know, what are the table stakes. You know, what should we be doing that maybe some of our competitors are doing that we’re not doing yet. And a lot of the focus was on transparency. So, you know, we’re doing all this work, how do we get that information in public in a way that, you know, stakeholders and raters and rankers can see it. So that was kind of the initial step was really just getting that stake in the ground of pulling it all together under what we call Cigna Connects, which is our approach to corporate responsibility. Which is, you know, again, through the lens of our mission focused on the health of, you know, people, the environment, communities…So after that, we then decided, okay, well let’s really now get strategic. And let’s really figure out, again, kind of, you know, not only what are the table stakes expectations but kind of the risk side of it if you will, but what are the opportunities? Where can we make a difference? [6:00] Where can we make a difference where we are the company to do that because of our expertise, because of our resources, because of our mission. And so that’s where we kind of developed our strategic platform, which has 3 focus areas. So, for Cigna, its health and wellbeing, the environment, and then responsible inclusive business. And if folks go onto our annual corporate responsibility report, you’ll see in the responsible business section, there’s a page that says strategy and key issues. And so that page, I like to think of, as kind of almost like the index for the report because you should be able to look at your strategy, your key issues, and we do hyperlink from all of the topics that fall within those 3 big buckets to pages in the report where we talk about that work. And so, you know, I have found that to be a really effective way in making sure that everything that we’re talking about is really tied to, what are we trying to do and how are we doing it. And so that’s kind of where we sit today. Now we’re in our next step and there is obviously a lot of other things that took place over the years, including, you know, we became the first US health insurance company to become a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact. We have had our greenhouse gas emissions verified by a third party now for 4 years. So now where we are is at setting targets. And we’ve had environmental targets, we definitely have some business-related targets, again, around what Cigna does, you know, as a company. So, we have targets around opioid prescribing reduction and then overdose reduction, and things of that nature. But now we’re really looking to take those 3 pillars that I just mentioned and have meaningful, measurable, long term targets, several of them we hope, within each of those pillars. [8:00] And the timing works really well for us. As I mentioned we, you know have merged with Express Scripts, we just launched a new brand called Ever North around our health services offerings. And it’s a great time because of this kind of newly combined company that we are but also our environmental targets expire at the end of 2020. So those need to be reset regardless. So, it’s just a great time for us to be able to say, “Okay, you know, if we’re going to talk targets, let’s really talk targets.”
Jennifer: It’s clear that business is really a clear focus around corporate responsibility for Cigna. How does Cigna value sustainability from that kind of business lens to invest in it so early on? In the sustainability world, having someone like yourself focus on it, even 8 years ago, is pretty forward looking for a company.
Mary: Yeah. I think I would say it’s probably because we do have a strong stakeholder perspective. And so, as topics bubble up outside our 4 walls, you know, we hear them very early. And I think that’s definitely, you know, 10 years ago, all of these topics and, you know, they were starting to really be seen by stakeholders as not window dressing. Right. This was no longer just about kind of doing good and there’s nothing wrong with doing good, doing good is great, but this is more than that. This is operating your business, you know, in the right way and making sure that you’re, you know, really focused on all the ways that you can, you know, achieve your mission and improve society at the same time. So it’s really, you know, its gets me up excited to do my job every day [10:00] is not all the risk mitigation around all these topics, and there’s plenty of that, and as there should be, right. I mean, you know, stakeholders are holding companies feet to the fire these days and whether you’re talking about, you know, kind of labor issues or ethics issues or environmental issues or, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion issues, you know, your feet are being held to the fire which is good. But again, I think when you have that real stakeholder engagement, you’re able to see it differently. You’re able to see not, like, not as a box ticking exercise but as, you know, this is what’s going on. It’s kind of like, I don’t know, approach somebody like planting a garden and you’re like, “Oh, you know, I’m actually really good at digging holes. Let me dig holes.” So, we approach all of these things through that lens of health and wellbeing and peace of mind, so that kind of whole body health, and everything we look at we say, you know, what’s our role here? Instead of just kind of saying, you know, make sure we’re in compliance if you will.
Jennifer: There are still companies that are very early on in their sustainability journey, what do you think it’s going to take for more companies to make larger investments in sustainability moving forward?
Mary: Yeah, really, honestly, I do think its stakeholders demanding it. You know, there are absolutely companies, you know, especially ones with maybe CEOs that are very purpose driven, but by in large, I really think what is moving the needle on this are stakeholders speaking up loud and clear. I think the work that Black Rock has done this, you know, past year by really changing [12:00] it from kind of a philosophical approach to how they look at companies to, you know, a very formal approach and using ESG as almost kind of a proxy for good management. I think as, you know, what the investor community is doing right now and making all of this, you know, very real for companies, I think is important. And I think employees are the other, you know, certainly customers, clients, and the whole concept of, you know, supply chain sustainability where our clients are asking us everyday in every RFP, because they want to do business with companies that are like-minded. But I think the other, you know, certainly the investor side, certainly the client-customer side, but I really feel that the employees are going to, especially as we move kind of, you know, post pandemic, are really going to be driving this. I think that what’s happened this year in our world and, you know, whether it’s, you know, the heath crisis that we’re facing or, you know, the social justice issues we’re all addresses, I think employees have really understood their role and found their voice and want to be part of really positive change and I think they will drive it from the inside.
Jennifer: Excellent. Well, I’m excited for that future as well. I think I’ve seen a lot of that change and it can only get better from here.
Mary: Absolutely. It’s good stuff.