Kim Yapchai on the Importance of Culture, Teamwork, and Integrity in Sustainability Initiatives
Sustainability initiatives are gaining mindshare across organizations, affecting everything from company culture to employee and customer trust. Yet, many businesses are still trying to figure out who should be driving these initiatives internally.
As a result, sustainability is often overseen by a variety of roles within an organization, working collaboratively to promote and implement green practices. Which begs the question:
- Who oversees sustainability at your organization?
- How did that person (or those people) assume the role?
- What skills do they need to be successful?
To help decipher these trends, the Skillsoft team interviewed sustainability leaders from various organizations and walks of life to help build awareness around various sustainability roles. We compiled these insights into a video series, Sustainability at Work, to showcase the stories of real sustainability professionals and their paths to success.
First up is Kim Yapchai, an accomplished C-suite leader with almost 30 years of experience in multinational public companies. Yapchai shares her experiences working as a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) and the most important skills she’s learned throughout her career.
3 Tips for Sustainability Professionals from Kim Yapchai
With an extensive background in environmental, social, and governance (ESG), risk, compliance, and legal, and around ten years working with Boards of Directors and committees, Kim Yapchai has impressive industry experience in financing, product manufacturing, and construction. However, it’s her “knock it out of the park” mentality and thought leadership on strategic sustainability issues that have positioned her as a well-trusted industry professional.
Taking on multiple roles at Tenneco, one of the world’s leading automotive marketing and manufacturing companies, Yapchai served as the Chief Environmental, Social, and Governance Officer of the company, a role created by the CEO based on her proposed ESG strategy. She was eventually elevated to the Executive Leadership Team, and the company now stands in the top-quartile in its industry.
Throughout her career, Yapchai has received many recognitions for her amazing work, including Top Mind by Compliance Week Magazine, the Salute to Excellence Award by the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce, and the Transformational Leadership—Visionary Leader by Inside Counsel Magazine. In her free time, Yapchai volunteers to mentor women and minorities, and she promotes diversity through the National Asian Pacific Bar Association and the DirectWomen International Board Committee.
She provided three takeaways for sustainability professionals:
- Integrity is critical in everything you do, personally and professionally.
- You can’t build a corporate sustainability program alone.
- A successful sustainability program does not happen overnight; it takes iteration.
Watch Yapchai’s interview here, or read on for more insight.
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Integrity is the Link Between Compliance and Sustainability
Coming into her sustainability role with a distinctly compliance-focused background, Yapchai kicked off our conversation by talking about the importance of integrity. Integrity, she told us, matters. It is critical personally and it is critical professionally.
Integrity is one of the key connections between compliance and sustainability. When a company commits to supporting values that are important to its employees and customers, it not only proves that the work they’re doing matters, but it also creates a workplace culture where trust, ethics, and unity are at the forefront.
“You can look at sustainability or ESG as another level of building a company’s culture,” said Yapchai. “There are a lot of overlaps and similarities between the skills that you use in terms of navigating the organization, protecting the company’s brand, contributing to a higher performance. A lot of the same skills you use in ethics and compliance, you use in ESG as well.”
Every organization has an opportunity to define what values they find important. This looks different for everyone, but it is necessary to decide what your organization’s priorities are because, “you can’t focus on everything at once.” Instead, Yapchai suggests that every organization focuses on three to five ESG initiatives that are significant and achievable. That way, you can hone your strategy and commit to matters that mean something to you.
It Takes a Village to Build a Sustainable Business
The sustainability of your business can affect its success, including potential financing and the ability to attract and retain employees. Employees want to work for companies that support what they believe in. But for corporate sustainability initiatives to be successful, many people need to take part.
“It takes a village. It’s not something one person or one team can do for a company,” Yapchai adds. In order to implement regulations that will have an impact, it’s important to develop a strategy. It takes a cross-functional team where everyone has a role to play and they commit to working together in order to ignite change.
It’s also important to make sure that you hold yourself, your team, and your company accountable for the results. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create a vision and express that vision clearly to the rest of your team while simultaneously highlighting other peoples’ achievements and giving them a forum to express their needs.
Focus on the Journey
Change – especially in the context of corporate social responsibility and ESG – doesn’t happen overnight. “It’s a journey,” Yapchai says.
To create and implement effective sustainability solutions within your organization, it’s important not to make promises you can’t keep. Rather, Yapchai suggests using a logical and analytical growth mindset to set a baseline and a target. This way, you know where you started and where you’re going, and your company can compare their initiatives year over year to track performance.
Creating a clear strategy and a plan to follow through is crucial, but sometimes figuring out where to start can be the hardest part. If you’re committing to improving your company, and on a larger scale, the world, then you should also commit to improving your knowledge and building a sturdy foundation that can support your work.
Committing to continuous learning is so important. And with Skillsoft’s sustainability training content, you can have the ability to prepare your organization to become more environmentally conscious at its own pace.
To hear more about Kim Yapchai’s experiences with ESG and sustainability work, and all she’s learned along the way, watch her interview here, and be sure to check out other interviews from our Sustainability at Work video series.