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Doing Business the Right Way: Corporate Sustainability Practices at HSBC

Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Whether you call it sustainability, corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, or community engagement, it’s a hot topic in business today. Business leaders need to balance the needs of all stakeholders, and that includes the community (locally and globally) in which they operate.

Loretta Abrams is senior vice president for corporate sustainability at HSBC Bank, one of the largest international banking and financial services organizations. HSBC has 6,600 offices in 80 countries and serves about 55 million customers. Abrams and her colleague, Ray Johnson, vice president for community investment, recently spoke at Marymount University – sharing their views on the value of giving back and making a difference in communities near and far. The presentation was part of the MU School of Business Administration Dean’s Speaker Series: Hear It from the Top.

Abrams explained, “Sustainability is imbedded in HSBC’s culture. It’s how we think about ourselves, and how we do business. We focus on the needs of our customers and the communities we serve.” She added, “We are in the community and our employees come from the community. We want schools to be good. We don’t need to make the last dollar.” HSBC also does no business with weapons manufacturers as a point of principle, and the organization went carbon neutral in 2005.

While HSBC’s primary service focus is on financial education through its Junior Achievement Program, the bank also has a variety of community service projects underway around the globe – in communities where they are located and even where they don’t have a business presence. Johnson oversees HSBC’s Water Programme, which works to bring fresh, clean water to communities in desperate need of a safe source.

HSBC designates a percentage of funds before taxes for its sustainability projects – donating more than $100 million a year to support communities around the world. While some companies just write an initial check, leaving communities on their own when equipment breaks, HSBC gets involved.
Ray Johnson said, “We build relationships. It’s about commitment – making sure it’s done right.” Their service partners include WaterAid, the World Wildlife Fund and the Earthwatch Institute. In Ghana, for example, WaterAid has provided safe water for 120,000 and enhanced sanitation for over 80,000. Johnson pointed out, “When a latrine was installed in a school that had no bathroom, attendance went up 35%. The health of the children also improved dramatically.” He also noted that it restored dignity, especially for girls and young women.

Abrams pointed out that making a commitment to communities is also good for business. She explained, “We can make money while addressing social and environmental issues. We can reduce risk by meeting and exceeding international standards. And we build trust by investing in communities and living our values.”

HSBC believes that “a sustainable bank must be consistently profitable, but not solely concerned with making a profit.” This ethical approach to doing business and investing in the community resonated with the Marymount audience. As a thank you to Abrams and Johnson, the university is making a contribution to one of the bank’s outreach projects.
PHOTO 1 - Loretta Abrams (center) talks with MBA candidates Gary Vogt and Megan O'Toole.
PHOTO 2 - Ray Johnson chats with Joshua Brobbey, an MBA student.
PHOTO 3 - Loretta Abrams
PHOTO 4 - Ray Johnson
PHOTO 5 - Loretta Abrams discusses sustainable business practices with MBA students Justin Minor and Leslie Atoui.