Sustainability, Community and Business

By Charlene Lake, AT&T SVP of Public Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer

In Europe last week, I met with inspirational people who are making an impact on their communities.

In London, a main issue of concern for those I met with is the high-school dropout rate. Early school leavers (as is the UK term) who are not in employment or training represent 9.2% of 16-18 year olds. This has a direct impact on the readiness of the future workforce.

I had a valuable discussion with a group of people working on different early school leaver initiatives – local community projects such as Urban Synergy, nationwide organizations such as the Prince’s Trust and initiatives with international activities or aspirations such as City Year and Debate Mate. Common success factors emerged:  one-on-one engagement; mentoring and using role models; engaging families through activities with young people rather than in parallel; and focusing on life skills. And common challenges:  scaling up small impactful projects so that they make inroads into the overall problem; generating and measuring meaningful data so that resources are directed to the better initiatives.

There is agreement that business is crucial in improving the early school leaver problem. Introducing young people to the world of work through job shadowing or internships opens up a realm of possibilities. But the belief is that the role of business extends beyond that – a company’s involvement in a project has knock-on benefits:  it draws the involvement and financial attention of stakeholders – industry peers, government, even the company’s supply chain.

Given the drive and passion of those I spoke to, I don’t doubt that solutions will be found. At AT&T we cannot sustain our business without an educated, talented and diverse workforce – people, not capital, will be the critical resource of the future. Whether through AT&T Aspire, a $100 million program to improve high school retention rates and prepare the next generation of workers – or through our involvement with such pioneering organizations as The Prince’s Trust – we’re not just helping create better futures for our children. We are sustaining our company, and we’re helping our economies to become more competitive.

From London, I traveled to Dublin for Business in the Community Conference to discuss how to transform to a sustainable business.  It was fascinating and educational to hear the experiences of different companies on their journeys.

The big question at the conference was how the economic crisis impacts companies’ transformation to sustainable business practices.  With surprisingly optimistic attitudes, the many business leaders staked their commitment and proclaimed belief in the financial benefits of sustainability.

AT&T believes that societal progress and company success depends on each other’s health. A company needs a healthy consumer and business community to buy its products and services.  A community needs healthy companies for their tax base and their jobs.

BITC Chief Executive Tina Roche’s said “Sustainability is not how you spend your money but how you make your money.” This reflects the progressive thinking I came across in Europe. The take up of telepresence is evidence of this progression. AT&T business customers are increasingly turning to telepresence to save money, increase productivity and decrease CO2 emissions. AT&T also helps companies measure their efforts by quantifying the environmental benefits of telepresence. A Carbon Disclosure Project study that AT&T sponsored shows that U.S. businesses can benefit financially by almost $15 billion by substituting telepresence for some business travel. Telepresence could reduce big companies’ CO2 emissions by nearly 4.6 million metric tons over the next decade in the US – that’s the equivalent of removing more than 875,000  vehicles from roads for one year – and earn back a return on their initial investment in as little as 15 months. The figures are equally impressive for UK companies.

Congratulations to BITC Ireland for a valuable and encouraging event.


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