Mary Draves on Employees’ Roles in Corporate Sustainability Initiatives

January 23, 2024 | New Workplace Leadership | 6 min read

Living up to our sustainability goals is a challenge we all face; it is not the sole responsibility of corporations. Yet, many lasting sustainability initiatives stem from corporate programs looking to make a difference for their employees, stakeholders, or the community at large.

To gain more perspective on the topic, the Skillsoft team interviewed sustainability leaders from a diverse set of organizations and industries and compiled these insights into a video series, Sustainability at Work, that is meant to showcase the experiences of real sustainability professionals.

Most recently, we spoke with Mary Draves, former chief sustainability officer at Dow, who talked to us about the link between business and nature. She told us that every individual has a role to play in corporate sustainability initiatives, but as a first step, it is the responsibility of every organization to translate its top-level goals into individual actions.

Meet Mary Draves

“My interest in sustainability started much younger than I would have ever imagined,” said Draves. “I grew up on a row crop farm, and we did things that were sustainable before sustainability was really ‘cool.’ We would grow all our own food; we traded with neighbors; we recycled everything.”

Fast forward to the work she did as an adult at Dow, a company with an unbelievably strong history and legacy of sustainability. Draves drew on her unique early childhood experiences to help leaders at Dow understand the intersection of business and nature – and how nature inherently promotes sustainable operations. Today, she works for the State Nature Conservancy Board in Michigan, which has contributed to many projects that are both good for business and good for nature.

One of the most critical things that Draves has learned throughout her career in sustainability is that every person in every company has a role to play. And Draves believes leadership must set that tone – making sure to be clear about the company’s intentions for sustainability.

When they understand the expectations from leadership, every individual must then make a concerted effort to carry out those intentions. From reducing waste, being inclusive, and understanding the company’s governance practices to understanding the company’s goals for carbon emissions and how the work that they do contributes to those goals, sustainability is not a solo venture.

“I think a lot of people feel like sustainability is somebody else’s problem,” said Draves. “But it is not. Sustainability is everyone’s issue. And if we collectively take small actions, those small actions build into big [collective] actions, which I think is particularly important.”

She pointed to an example of an office furniture company she consults with. They have an innovative circularity program, where they take all your organization’s old office furniture out, put it in a warehouse, and then use it to rebuild your office areas – like new or better. The company was having trouble figuring out how to communicate the program’s value because employees did not quite understand what circularity meant.

After working to better communicate the concept to employees, the company started to gain business because the people on the front lines were able to talk about the actual benefits of those sustainable practices. That’s why it’s imperative that every single employee – from the owners and executives of the company to all levels of the organization – understands what sustainability means to the company and its customers. Leaders must level-set, establish a strong tone from the top, and then translate what the corporate goals mean for every individual who works there.

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Say It. Do It. Prove It.

When looking at sustainability practices as a whole, Draves considers “the whole picture of how you run your company, from your pay practices to your environmental policies to how you govern the way your board works – and everything in between.” And while there’s not a one-size-fits-all way to quantify success across sustainability initiatives, she outlined a model to help organizations track the efficacy of their programs, which she calls the Say, Do, Prove Model.

Here’s a breakdown of the process:

  1. Say: Set a goal.
  2. Do: Take action to achieve the goal.
  3. Prove: Prove that you took action towards that goal.

According to Draves, “Sustainability efforts need to be accompanied by actual data that has been audited by an independent third party to really prove that what an organization says it has done is real. There are many companies that set a goal and take some action to achieve it, but then they never actually prove it.”

The companies that are really achieving their sustainability objectives are typically those that can quantify their efforts in a way that is comparable and understandable to society at large.

Applying the Say, Do, Prove Model to DEI Initiatives

Draves believes this is especially valuable in organizations’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. More than ever before, workers consider DEI a key element of any company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy – and they expect organizations to clearly communicate the intention of their DEI programs, take actions to make their goals a reality, and quantify their efforts.

Said Draves: “When I talk to young people looking for jobs, there are a couple of things that they ask me very consistently. One is, ‘What are the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion programs?’” These job seekers want to know if potential employers will accept them as they are.

And they are not looking to be pacified. Job seekers want to understand how employers will make these DEI goals a reality. And then they want to know if these efforts have worked; is the company on the right track to make progress against these goals?

The proof is in the culture. Companies who can show quantifiable progress in DEI initiatives are able to better recruit and retain top talent. Take a look, below, at some ways your organization might apply the model to its own DEI initiatives.



  • Inclusive Policies and Practices : Implement policies and practices that promote DEI. This could include unbiased recruitment and hiring processes, flexible work arrangements, mechanisms that promote a healthy speak-up culture, and mentorship programs.
  • Diverse Teams : Actively work to create diverse teams and ensure that employees from different backgrounds have opportunities for collaboration. Assign projects that require cross-functional and cross-cultural teamwork.


  • Metrics and Accountability : Establish measurable goals and metrics to track progress in DEI initiatives. Regularly assess and report on diversity metrics, such as representation in leadership roles and employee retention and satisfaction.
  • Recognition and Rewards : Acknowledge and reward individuals and teams that actively contribute to a diverse and inclusive workplace. This reinforces the importance of DEI and encourages ongoing commitment.

By applying the Say, Do, Prove Model to DEI initiatives, organizations can go beyond mere statements and ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are integrated into their culture and practices. This approach promotes a more comprehensive understanding of DEI, encourages practical application, and provides a framework for ongoing evaluation and improvement.

The Say, Do, Prove Model implies a group effort within organizations to create a culture that genuinely embraces the principles that matter to that organization – whether they are related to sustainability, DEI, or something else. Achieving success in any of these areas requires a collective commitment and effort, and not a reliance on individual actions alone.