Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Awards Finalist Interview with Jeanne Underwood, Government Affairs Coordinator, State & Local Affairs, Dominion
1. Why do you believe CSR strategy is important for a company/you?
Dominion is a major energy corporation. We provide the electricity and natural gas that drive our economy and support the needs of the homes, businesses and industries we serve. These are not luxuries; they are necessities of modern life. Our business touches everyone in some regard, so we believe we have an obligation to support the well-being of society and help protect the natural world while we fulfill our business mission.
2. Do you believe that the CSR work you participate in should be affiliated with the work you/your company does? For example, should an Oil company’s CSR be in cleaning up oil spills?
Yes, but not exclusively. The key to being a good corporate citizen is accepting responsibility for your actions and being accountable for the decisions you make, whatever line of business you happen to be in. As an energy company, we know that our operations inevitably impact the natural world. But we are committed to minimizing those impacts as we work to meet our customers’ growing energy needs.
We also understand that the needs of the communities we serve go beyond the everyday focus of our role as an energy provider. That is why our corporate philanthropy mission includes education, human services and cultural programming. Last year alone, the Dominion Foundation donated $500,000 in northern Virginia ($20 million across our entire service area) to programs identified under these vital giving categories. Our CSR initiatives undergird and reflect our dual focus.
3. What makes you/your company stand out compared to other individuals/companies participating in CSR?
Dominion’s approach to CSR, as well as our prospects for sustainable success, are anchored in the company’s core values of safety, ethical behavior, performance excellence and teamwork. We believe that if we can consistently put these values into play in our working lives, we can make CSR second nature and a touchstone of continuous improvement. This values-based approach is deeply embedded in our company’s culture.
Some examples: We introduce electric safety programs to school kids and provide public safety training for emergency responders, and emergency planning exercises with local governments and regional organizations like NVRC and COG. We are actively engaged in the educational system and support a wide range of educational programs, from STEM-related events such as KidWind Regional Challenge, to employee mentoring of students, to participating in high school ethics programs, and teaching young students environmental stewardship through Project Plant It, and the like. We’re leading the way in the hiring of military veterans with our Troops to Energy Jobs program; we’ve instituted a strategic undergrounding of power lines initiative. Our nuclear units consistently rank as industry standard-bearers in the area of safety and efficiency, and our electric service reliability is at all-time high.
4. Do you believe contributing back to the community allows you/your company to have a deeper connection with your/its consumers?
Yes. The nature of our business links us directly to the customers and communities we serve. And we have a legacy of public service and community outreach that goes back more than a century. So it is somewhat second nature for Dominion to be an integral part of community life. The challenge is to stay flexible and retain the ability to adapt to constantly changing public expectations about what role our business plays in society. We firmly believe that we as a company are only as strong as the communities we serve.
5. What are some events or causes that inspire you and your team?
We play an important role in spearheading programs that help low-income families and individuals pay their energy bills. Our EnergyShare fuel assistance program, for example, has been doing that for more than 30 years. Over that period of time, the program has provided about $67 million in donations to about 750,000 individuals and more than 300,000 families. We are also big supporters of improved STEM education because our business depends heavily on skills based in science, technology, math and engineering. We work with schools and other nonprofits to improve understanding of the interactions between energy, the economy and the environment and to develop the skill sets we’ll need in tomorrow’s workforce. The inspiration is both individual and collective. We encourage our co-workers to contribute as individuals and collectively, and the product of that individual and collective effort is manifested in many ways – outdoor classrooms built for grade and middle schools, Monarch Butterfly gardens, speakers’ bureaus, mentorships, environmental day projects, philanthropy, and clothing, school and food drives, to name a few. To illustrate this, last year Dominion employees volunteered more than 100,000 hours. For perspective, it would take 50 full-time employees working 40 hours per week a year to equal 100,000 volunteer hours.
6. What advice would you give to individuals/companies trying to participate in CSR?
In the words of Socrates, know thyself. Know your mission and align your resources and CSR strategies to support it. That also means knowing your key stakeholder groups and understanding how they intersect your organization or business. Engage with them, partner with them, and value their feedback.