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Certificate program offers quick study in social responsibility

Union Leader Correspondent

August 22. 2012 1:39AM

DURHAM - Businesses big and small are realizing that corporate sustainability is not just the right thing to do but is profitable.

As the idea catches on, more executives are looking for opportunities to make their businesses more sustainable, without having to dedicate a year or two to a master's degree program, say organizers of an education program.

New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility is offering a Certificate in Corporate Sustainability program in partnership with the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business and Economics and the Sustainability Academy at UNH. The three-day institute set for Nov. 7-9 at Holloway Commons on the Durham campus explores various areas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

'Sustainable business makes sense both environmentally and economically, and it is important that business leaders understand how to apply sustainability concepts to their products and services, said Dan Innis, dean of the Whittemore School.

The Certificate in Corporate Sustainability was launched in fall 2011 to fill a gap in training for mid-level and senior business professionals.

'The program addresses an expressed desire by business professionals for opportunities to expand their understanding of corporate sustainability beyond what can be attained in a one-day conference, without committing to a full sustainability MBA program,' said Michelle Veasey, executive director of NHBSR.

Over three days, executives will be immersed in coursework, site visits and case studies that explore why sustainability matters to business, how to build a case for sustainability and how to communicate that message to internal and external stakeholders. The courses are team-taught to maximize academic content with practical application in the field, organizers say.

Participants can also choose to undertake a project in their workplace that allows them to draw from their experience at the institute and address the practical needs of their employers.

Veasey said sustainability is about much more than the environment.

'Basically, it is companies understanding their operations have an impact not only on business and profitability, but on the community as a whole,' Veasey said.

She said this could include a business looking for alternate resources so as not to deplete one source, or making sure employees are paid a living wage, or paying employees to volunteer their time in the community.

'It is not just writing a check, but also getting people involved and understanding what is important outside of the company walls,' Veasey said.

More and more companies, from giants like Walmart to smaller businesses like Hypertherm in Hanover, are adopting sustainability concepts, Veasy said.

'I think ultimately companies are recognizing that corporate social responsibility isn't just about doing something because it is the right thing to do, but because it has a positive impact financially as well,' Veasey said. 'As far as the environmental side, when you are reducing negative impacts, it means you are not going to be fined, or needing to regulate or report on hazardous waste. ... But when you are getting involved with the community, there is a loyalty among your community members as well to your company.'

After Walmart pressed its suppliers to curb packaging in order to reduce waste, the company saw a decrease in its warehouse and transportation costs and also had more room to display products on store shelves, Veasey said.

She said Hypertherm embraced social responsibility, not just from an environmental standpoint but also by encouraging employees to participate.

The company decided to change to employee stock options and got employees involved in decision-making, allowing them more opportunities to provide their own ideas for efficiencies and change. It also offers employees health and wellness programs, and has developed training programs in the community to ensure it has the skilled labor it needs for the company's highly technical processes.

'They have had a fantastic impact on their community because they are so involved and engaged with their employees,' Veasey said.

Alums of the program include employees of Hypertherm in Hanover Hannaford and Timberland.

Additional information is available by visiting www.sustainabilitycertificate.org.

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Gretyl Macalaster may be reached at gmacalaster@newstote.com.

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