On Corporate Citizenship

Corporate Citizenship 2021 Contributors

 

Emily Guillaume

Emily is a Mountain Challenge partner and Fit.Green.Happy.® board member. She runs, bike rides, climbs, and paddles [to name only a few of her outdoor pursuits] which makes her a full-on outdoor practitioner. She lives in Richmond, VA with her wonder-dog Brenner where she practices environmental law.


Bruce Guillaume

Bruce is the founder of Mountain Challenge and Fit.Green.Happy.® board member. As an outdoor practitioner, his pursuits include trail running, bike riding and paddling.

He lives in Friendsville, TN with his wife Wendy, the Mountain Challenge fitness director. He is beginning to practice retirement.


Parker Owens

Parker is an undergraduate student at Maryville College in Maryville TN. He is the Director of Creative Services for Mountain Challenge and our design guru. As a runner and cyclist, he is likewise an outdoor practitioner.

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Introduction

 

     As a social worker who started an outdoor adventure company, I never thought much about business things including the importance of acting responsibly. I just wanted to run, ride a bike and wear jeans to work. In fact, to this day, I must make myself consider the business side of things.

 

     I now know that acting responsibly matters a great deal. Given that governments and large corporations often yield power irresponsibly and only in pursuit of profits, the idea of doing good as a business maybe matters most of all.

Surprisingly, individuals and small groups of people, including small companies, may yield the most influence.

 

     Collectively we are called many things nowadays – consumers, voters, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, urban, rural. Rarely are we called citizens. And yet citizenship lies at the heart of this idea of responsibility. And in the United States, corporations are considered citizens. We should live up to that title.

 

     What does it mean for an individual or a group to be a good citizen? It’s taken a long time to generate some ideas.

Being a good citizen is a pain in the ass. You have to ask right questions.

 

     Lots of bad things happen in the world simply because people don’t know better. And we all don’t know things.

You must learn how to know better. Educate, learn, make connections. This is the job of education. The longer your education serves you, the better.

 

     Once you know better, you are responsible for acting on what you know. Doing a bad thing because you don’t know is 1 thing. Doing a bad thing or not doing a good thing once you know is worse. This is the “education responsibility”.

Others are watching. Don’t underestimate the influence of good citizens, individually and collectively, doing the right thing once they know the right thing to do.

 

So, read on to see more particulars for 2021!

 

     -Bruce Guillaume

      Founder, Mountain Challenge

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CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP

     We’ve been putting together these “responsibility” reports for the better part of a decade. We started doing them to let the world know that we cared about people and the planet (and the wellbeing of both) and to detail the actions we intended to do to show that we cared. At the time, it wasn’t something other companies were really doing—after all, companies have one job: to make money. But, times have changed. The private sector has come to realize that its actions have huge impacts on people’s lives and the planet.

     Now, Walmart, Amazon, Google, Coca Cola, some of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the history of the world have corporate social responsibility reports. It’s now incorporated into the business jargon with CEOs throwing around terms like “environmental, social, and governance” (or ESG) principles. It’s now expected that large companies have some kind of carbon reduction target or community giving program to show that they too are “doing their part.” This is certainly not nothing, and it’s important that companies are doing something. But for large and wealthy corporations, money is the problem (because it leads them to exploit people and the planet for profit) and the solution (because it pays for higher wages and carbon offsets). But money can’t be everything.

     We don’t think of ourselves as mere profit-turning cogs in the economic machine.  We are citizens (remember, the Supreme Court said so). So what does it mean to be a citizen? We have an idea of what we think it ought to mean, and that’s what’s guiding our decisions in the coming years. Read on to find out what we’re doing—and for a Civics 101 lesson.

     When you’re a citizen, you assume that you automatically get stuff. And that’s kind of true—in the U.S., you get a lot of really important rights and privileges without having to do anything. You’re entitled to them. But being a citizen also means that you’re a part of a society where other people also have those rights, and in order for us all to enjoy these rights we are entitled to, we have to respect each other. We are responsible for each other’s rights. And when you start to think about being responsible for rights instead of being entitled to them, you realize there’s a lot more to being a citizen.

     Just give. A lot of companies like to talk about how they “give back” to the community. But giving back implies that something has been taken. For a lot of companies, that means taking tax breaks and other economic incentives from cities and towns and then “giving back” money or food or clothes or other charitable gifts after they turn a profit. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this model, it’s just not what we think a citizen would do. For us, rather than “giving back,” we just took the “back” part out of the equation by officially incorporating Fit.Green.Happy® as the nonprofit arm of Mountain Challenge. Now, there’s just giving and sharing ideas about how Fit.Green.Happy® can grow as a concept and as a program. We’re pretty well convinced that by linking physical fitness, mental health, and the outdoors, folks will not only be healthier and happier, but will also start to see how everything is connected. Including citizenship.

     Grow something where you’re planted. If you’ve read more than one of these reports over the years, you’ll know we’ve bounced around the idea of making Crawford House a “carbon neutral” facility. By making some additional tweaks to our energy usage (like turning off the AC in the summer when folks are constantly opening and closing doors), we discovered that our 12-array solar panel provides effectively all of the electricity that Crawford House needs. Starting January 1, 2022, we’ll also be experimenting with using “task heating” by using small electric space heaters rather than kicking on the natural-gas-powered heat pump. (As an exciting side note, we’re also looking into installing geothermal—stay tuned!) We’ve calculated our carbon footprint a lot, and it’s about as low as it’s going to get without using carbon offsets to get us the rest of the way there. But rather than pay our way to carbon neutrality, we’ve decided to put our money where our mouth is—literally. To account for the remaining carbon we emit, we’re looking to expand the footprint of the College Woods near the orchard plots. A few extra trees added to one of our most precious spaces is something we thought a responsible citizen who is truly invested in their community might do.

     Be a good neighbor. We’re a citizen of more than just Maryville College, though. We’re also a citizen of Appalachia. Through a partnership with Hancock County High School in northeastern Tennessee, high school students put together creative projects (ranging from essays to photography to paintings) expressing their ideas about Appalachia. Under the mentorship of Maryville College students, these works were published in Impressions, the college’s publishing platform. By giving the young people in this region a chance to think, write, speak, and express their experiences, we’re hoping to shape a different narrative for Appalachia’s future. One that showcases its unbridled beauty, sense of humor, and emphasis on harmony—with ourselves, each other, and nature. In other words, we’re trying to be good neighbors by bringing out the best in what this region has to offer. More to come, so stay tuned.

     Intuitively, we know these things are meaningful. We know that Fit.Green.Happy® is catching on and is helping people cope with what are still strange and uncertain times. We know that some small piece of the atmosphere is being saved every time we don’t tap into fossil fuels. We know that our Hancock County neighbors have benefited from the creative endeavors of their students. What we don’t necessarily know is how much. Some things we can count, like how much carbon we’re producing. Some things we can ask, like how much folks are getting outside and for how long. We know, for example, that Fit.Green.Happy® programming has served 1,087 participants from August to December 2021, including more than 700 Maryville College students and college-related folks, over 30 corporate participants, and more than 250 academic participants. But other things are harder to put into numbers. Measuring community impact is inherently subjective, which makes it tricky to tell how much good is going on. We’re working with our college friends to help us develop more objective measures to assess community impact.

     We’re asking, we’re learning, we’re doing, and we’re paying attention. We’re being citizens, something we all need to be now more than ever.