Better Business Challenge: CFA Institute’s Corporate Sustainability Benefits Business and Society

Pictured: Kelli Palmer, CFA Institute Director of Corporate Citizenship, during a walk-through at the Harmony Ridge neighborhood. CFA Institute is partnering with Habitat for Humanity on a pilot Carbon Offset Project in Harmony Ridge to help the non-profit maximize its use of energy-use reduction techniques and materials in the homes’ construction.

Pictured: Kelli Palmer, CFA Institute Director of Corporate Citizenship, during a walk-through at the Harmony Ridge neighborhood. CFA Institute is partnering with Habitat for Humanity on a pilot Carbon Offset Project in Harmony Ridge to help the non-profit maximize its use of energy-use reduction techniques and materials in the homes’ construction.

CFA Institute, headquartered in Charlottesville, is one of the area’s largest employers. But its reach, footprint, and influence stretch far beyond City confines, as a global association of investment management professionals. As such, corporate sustainability is vital to its mission, both here in C’ville and around the world.

Examples of CFA’s commitment to environmentally sustainable action include its eco-friendly redesign of the former Martha Jefferson Hospital at 915 East High Street – current location of its HQ – for which it earned LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, as well as its recent move to become a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, pledging to embrace a principles-based approach to doing business that includes a responsibility to the environment.

Here, Kelli Palmer, Director of Corporate Citizenship at the CFA, shares a snapshot of the numerous thoughtful sustainability-related measures the Institute has implemented to take a lead on climate action both internally and externally, and as Better Business Challenge participants.

Why is corporate sustainability important to the CFA Institute?

KELLI: At CFA Institute, our mission is to lead the investment profession globally by promoting the highest standards of ethics, education and professional excellence for the ultimate benefit of society. This part of our mission, for the ultimate benefit of society, means that we have a deep commitment to positively impacting the environment and the people in it.

In the Finance industry, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is an investment concept and strategy screen that allows socially conscious investors to use environmental criteria to better understand the impact of their investments on the environment. This set of standards allows for values-aligned investing and encourages sustainability minded business practices. At CFA Institute, we are continuously identifying ways to advance our sustainability efforts including, carbon footprint reduction and energy conservation. These efforts are part of our day-to-day operations so that we are living out the values we publicly espouse to the investment management industry.

Why is participating in the Better Business Challenge not only important to the CFA, but to the community-at-large?

KELLI: We believe that initiatives like the Better Business Challenge are important because they encourage stewardship of our environmental resources that will benefit business and society. We love the idea of a friendly competition that also serves a greater purpose and promotes active engagement among local businesses and organizations who want to do their part to make Charlottesville a greener place to live, work, and play.

What are some strategies you use at the CFA Institute to communicate or engage your staff members (in the work you're doing in the Challenge and/or in corporate sustainability initiatives)?

KELLI: I believe that staff engagement in organizational sustainability activities is critical to ensuring that every single individual feels that they have a role to play in improving the state of the environment. We do this through efforts such as incentivizing lower carbon footprint travel and encouraging sustainability-oriented volunteer opportunities through our employee Volunteer Time Off benefit. This gives employees two days per year of paid time away from the office to work with a nonprofit, school or civic organization.

Additionally, we have taken steps to reduce the environmental impact of the numerous global and domestic conferences that we plan each year by reducing the use of paper for conference materials and developing a vendor and venue sourcing process that takes sustainability factors into consideration. Another way we engage employees is by regularly organizing donation or recycling drives to promote the reuse of items such as retired office electronics and furniture. In 2018, our annual electronics program collected nearly 10,000 pounds of electronics to be sustainably disposed of and diverted from the landfill.

What corporate sustainability initiatives are you most proud of?

KELLI: CFA Institute is very proud to have received the LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for integrating sustainability into the design and operation of our Charlottesville facility at 915 East High Street. This process involved green considerations at every point of the design and renovation process. Notable features of our facility include solar panels on the roof, a gray water management system, composting, and recycling rooms on all the floors.  It is worth noting that we annually donate our earned compost to the local City Schoolyard Garden.

This month, we become a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) signaling our intent as an organization to align all operations to ten ethical principles spanning topics such as human rights, labor, and the environment. This was an exciting opportunity for us to join ranks with 9,997 companies in 162 countries who are committed to increasing action and awareness around the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

What advice do you have for other major employers in the Charlottesville area about taking on a greater leadership role in the environment?

KELLI: Do something… every bit helps. You have to start somewhere so do not wait for the “right” moment to arrive, there is always something that you can start doing right now. And, then build upon your efforts as you see opportunities and have resources to do so. Consider the long-term, ripple impact by making it fun and engaging so that you build employee buy-in and have a team around you that is enthusiastic and inspired to do more for the environment in all aspects of their lives – in the workplace, at home, and in community.

Work with C3 and participate in the Better Business Challenge. A little friendly competition can be a real motivator and an even better accountability mechanism. The good news is that environmental sustainability benefits the bottom line and fuels employee morale. That is a true win-win!