“I am here to talk to you about an aspect of citizenship that I don’t think we talk about often enough, and that aspect is about the role of big business in society.”
This is how Christine Bader, a leader in the field of Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility, began her presentation to Upper School students at a recent News program dedicated to the year’s theme, "Brave for Our Earth." In explaining big business’ role in damaging the environment, Ms. Bader said it is also a part of the solution.
In her book “The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil,” Ms. Bader details her experiences working for BP in China, Indonesia, England and the United States. After a teaching fellowship and a job in the New York City Mayor’s office, Ms. Bader enrolled at Yale Business School. It was there that she heard a speech delivered by John Brown, then the C.E.O of British Petroleum. His candor and willingness to acknowledge that climate change was real struck a chord with her. Shortly after, she was working for the company in Indonesia.
During her time at BP, Ms. Bader worked in community relations to develop projects where she felt the interests of big business aligned with the interests of society. The vision she had of herself as a “corporate idealist” changed in 2010, however, when the Deep Water Horizon Rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the largest oil spill in U.S. waters in history. Suddenly, BP was a very different company to her than it had been while working there for over nine years.
After speaking with counterparts across industries, Ms. Bader realized that the story of people working in the trenches of big business to push for safer and more responsible practices needed to be told. “I wanted to tell the story of this global, invisible army of people, like me, who are working deep inside these companies, not for public relations, but far away from the cameras…who are trying to prevent the very disasters that end up ensuing,” she said about writing her book.
Before leaving the Assembly, Ms. Bader said she hoped to instill awareness in the students, so that they would ask questions of the people they know and of the brands they support and follow. “My hope for your generation is that you make it cool not to have the newest thing all the time, but to have the thing that you know causes the least damage to the environment and creates the most value for the livelihoods of the people who make it!”