As expanding policies and the changing national and international regulatory landscape encourage companies to implement ambitious, yet achievable and measurable environmental and social goals, there is a growing need for public companies to address priorities. regulators, investors and consumers. Almost five years after taking office as Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Pentair and after 18 months as Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Karla Robertson has a unique role and perspective when it’s about influencing how the business navigates through growth and governance. Below, Karla reflects on Pentair’s efforts to advance the positive effects of its business, highlighting the progress cited in its recent Corporate Responsibility Reportand shares his vision for the future.
Increasingly, we are seeing the General Counsel play a role in the sustainability of key organizations; how did you come to your position at Pentair?
Karla Robertson: Working to have a positive societal impact has been at the heart of my concerns since the beginning of my career. For several years before law school, I did public service work on behalf of victims of domestic violence and experienced firsthand the importance of making a positive impact in the lives of individuals and in the world. This experience, along with my attendance at law school as the Chancellor’s Public Interest Researcher, inspired me to continue integrating social accountability into my legal career. This took various forms, as I worked as an attorney at a law firm, as an in-house employment lawyer at a large retail company, and also as an in-house attorney at a food and beverage wholesaler and retailer. beverages, where I progressed to senior management. Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary.
Since joining Pentair in 2017, I have worked closely with our management team and board of directors on governance topics, which naturally included environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues overseen by a director of social responsibility. Pentair did not have a formalized program with a dedicated leader to drive social responsibility priorities and lead the company’s focused strategy. We recognized that such a program was aligned with Pentair’s goal, “Win Right” values and long-term value creation proposition. So the company and the board made the decision to establish a program and appoint me as a dedicated leader.
At the time, appointing me to lead these efforts might have seemed an atypical move, as some may not see the role of a general counsel as falling naturally outside the traditional confines of legal advice and risk management. But fundamentally, corporate social responsibility is a combination of business partnership, strategy, compliance and a risk management discipline that requires an understanding of moral and ethical considerations – which, for those of us in the legal profession, fits well within our areas of expertise. and the contributions we can make to an organization. So this combined role is something that I see more and more.
Tell us about the ESG direction for a company like Pentair. What are the determining factors in the definition of an ESG strategy?
Robertson: At Pentair, we strive to improve life’s essential resources – for people and our planet – and to create a better world through our products and solutions. We are driven every day by this commitment to ensure that our vision is aligned with that of our stakeholders. This is why one of the first major efforts to lay the groundwork for our work was to carry out a materiality assessment, which we did in 2020. It was important for us to chart an inclusive path, so we engaged key stakeholders in a formal process to elicit a wide range of voices and holistically understand priority ESG areas.
Listening to our stakeholders ensured we were on the right track and helped us align on key areas, including focusing on our responsible water management and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse effect, by innovating to provide water and energy efficient solutions, and by building both a responsible supply chain business and an inclusive and diverse workforce. Under the oversight of our Board of Directors and using these priority areas as a guide, we have developed Social Responsibility Strategic Objectivesthat we announced in 2021. This was a significant undertaking across our entire business, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done over the past year to make progress against our goals.
Pentair recently published its 2021 Corporate Responsibility Report — the first time the company shared the progress of its Social Responsibility Strategic Objectives. Can you share some highlights?
Robertson: 2021 was an important year for us as we built on our foundations and made progress towards becoming a leading socially responsible company. Pentair’s goals focus on the impact of our operations, products and solutions on people and our planet.
Highlights include the reduction of our carbon footprint (total Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions in 2021 decreased by 11.8% compared to the 2019 baseline). We also increased the representation of women in our workforce to 32% (from 30% in 2019) and women in leadership positions to 31% (from 28% in 2019), as well as the increased representation of people of color in our US workforce at 43%. (vs. 39% in 2019) and 26% (vs. 23% in 2019) of our leadership positions in the United States.
I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but we recognize there’s still a long way to go. We are focused on the future and will continue to engage with our stakeholders on areas where we can improve.
What does it mean to Pentair to innovate with sustainability in mind?
Robertson: Product innovation is at the heart of our business. Pentair relies on providing smart, sustainable and resource efficient products and solutions to create a better world. We strive to further assess, design and market our products for environmental sustainability. We now have an enhanced product innovation process that includes product sustainability assessment as an equal weighting factor in marketing decisions and which we use to evaluate all of our new products.
We are focused on driving innovation that helps our planet thrive, and by innovating with sustainability in mind, we create solutions that use fewer resources and turn waste into value.
Where do you see the industry heading? What are the priorities and biggest opportunities for Pentair?
Robertson: 2022 is another crucial year to advance our strategic social responsibility objectives. We will continue to engage our employees across the company to keep things moving forward.
Another area that we and others in the industry are currently navigating is the changing regulatory landscape – both domestically and internationally – to meet ever-changing standards and disclosure requirements. As we position Pentair to meet these ever-changing demands, we also remain focused on creating long-term value with our advances in social responsibility and the positive impacts these efforts have for our employees, customers, shareholders and communities.
As far as our communities are concerned, we will continue our philanthropic work and the work of the Pentair Foundation. Pentair and the Pentair Foundation work with partners to increase access to clean, safe water through our Project Safewater initiative. Pentair is a company that helps move, improve and enjoy water. We plan to continue to seek ways to build additional partnerships around our purpose and further put our purpose into practice for people around the world today and for future generations. These collective efforts are what we call “Making Better Essential” and inspire me every day.