When building up networks of sustainability leaders and innovators, it often takes the progressive action of a single individual to catalyze real change. These individuals are Sustainability Ambassadors, and they have the capacity and the drive to inspire change at any level of an organization – from the new talent to the visionary executive.
ABOUT Zhang Hui
As the Director of UTC Community Affairs/CSR, Asia, Mr. Roy Zhang is responsible for developing the multi-year community affairs and CSR strategy, responsible supply chain management, internal and external stakeholder engagement, CSR reporting, corporate fund management and strategic employee volunteer management.
Before joining UTC, Roy served as the Senior Manager of Global Citizenship & Policy for Abbott Laboratories China. There, he has developed a local five-year corporate citizenship plan, succeeded at cross-function integration of CSR programs, and built a successful corporate citizenship communications strategy. Prior to Abbott, Roy was an Internal Communications and CSR Manager at SAP Labs China, with over 12 year experience in the area of corporate communication, CSR, sustainability, government and community relations.
For more stories like Hui’s, and to learn how to foster similar leaders in your own company, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.
About Sustainability Ambassador Series
Sustainability Ambassadors is a video series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organization into action: to identify those with the potential to rise and think outside the box, and build a collaborate community of such people that can help your organization forge new paths of longevity and evolve into something powerful.
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For more insights on Sustainability Ambassadors, and to learn how to foster champions who can take your organization beyond business as usual, check out our Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network Report.
- June 17 – Chitra Hepburn, Senior Strategy Executive, ESG, Sustainability and CSR
- June 24 – Dr. Lu Jianzhong, Partner at Brunswick Group
- July 1 – Sandra Durrant, Director of Responsible Sourcing at Target
- July 8 – Sharon Xiao, APAC Sustainabilty Manager at UPM
- July 15 – Michelle Garnaut, M on The Bund
- July 22 – Yue Cao, Seeking Opportunity in Sustainability
- July 29 – Nitin Dani, Director at Green Initiatives
- August 12 – Raymond Fang, Sustainability Director at APP
- August 26 – Echo Bao, Strategic & Sustainability Program at DSM
- September 2 – Patrick Riley, VP of Global Accounts at Interface
- September 9 – Roy Zhang, Asia Director of Sustainability and CSR at UTC
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
RICH: Good afternoon everyone,. I’m here with Roy Zhang who’s the Sustainability Director for UTC Corporation, United technologist. We’re here talking today about his career as a CSR and sustainability manager and how he’s come up over the last 8-10 years in his capacity. So we hope that you’ll enjoy the lessons that he is imparting and sharing with us today.
RICH: Roy, give me your story. Where do you work and what’s your background in sustainability.
ROY: My name is Hui Zhang. You can call me Roy. I work for United Technologies since 2014. My function related to CSR and sustainability starts from, officially starts from 2007. Before that I been actively engaged in the business NGO activities, dialogues, so I’ve been technical consultant for FHI, for UNDP, for Gates Foundation at the local fund. So basically I have a lot of NGO background and experience before 2007.
GETTING STARTED IN CSR
RICH: Now when you started this, you were what in your early 30s? You make a switch to CSR which at the time was not a very well established or dare I say well respected industry. What did your family think? What did your friends think about that when you got started?
ROY: That’s a good question. The family was think it’s nice, it’s decent, we are proud of you, but in the meantime whether this is sustainable. Whether that can be a good, promising career. So, that’s very honest answer to this.
RICH: But did you think of this as a promising career? Were you thinking about our career at all or were you thinking, “I really enjoy this I want to keep going.”
ROY: I just keep on doing this, otherwise I won’t be the voluntary consultant for UNDP. I won’t spend a lot of time to talk to the NGO, grad student NGO peers, fellows, finding solutions. That bring a lot of reward to my feeling. It’s really a fun to me. I just like doing this. Like people doing…some people like basketball or some like watching the drama. I just like doing the volunteer work.
But things changed. After I been almost fulltime doing this for 3 years, I start to receive a lot of headhunter offers at that time. But I see there is a huge needs. I see there is a lot of funding sitting in the company, which need a smarter guy or more strategic thinking to guide, to generate more impact. So I start to think this can be a good career opportunity.
RICH: What are the things you had to learn right away to get started? I mean you probably understood that you, if you didn’t succeed quickly you were going to be marginalized. But you wanted to be part of the business so what are a few of the things that you knew that you had to learn, people you had to know to make that happen? What were the quick wins you went for? What were the tools, the network that you knew you needed to build?
ROY: The first word I will say is to survive. The reality is I organize so I learn confident at that time, when I was first on board. When I organized my first working committee meeting, I realized that there’s a still a lot of journey to go. I estimated at least 15 mid level managers or directors who will join me and with a lot of ____(4:29) questions. But turns out only 5 people show up, two department assistant and another 3 leaders, they have no knowledge, no idea what this guy is. Hey Roy, welcome. You’re doing good things for the company. You’re doing volunteer job. You’re doing charity, we’ll welcome you.
So I told them it’s not like that actually. So I give them some cases by we need to go beyond the traditional finance. What is the local new strategy, why I’m here. So I think that’s a good talk, even 5 people. Five people. The advantage of small group is that we can have a more in-depth talk. Then they start to be my ambassador. So using their language to tell other leaders things is going to change.
IMPORTANCE OF INTERNAL AMBASSADORS
RICH: What’s the importance of having the internal ambassador for you? Could you have done what you had accomplished without them?
ROY: Ambassadors are the most important internal stakeholders. If they can use in their language, their styles, their euphemism to do I won’t say lobby, but to make people understand the value of your function, the value of the things you are doing, I can’t succeed if I rely on myself only.
RICH: What makes for a good ambassador for you? Like what’s the type of person you want to engage?
ROY: First you need to prioritize. You need to map your internal stakeholders which are relevant to success of your job of the work you are doing. So, no matter they like you or they don’t like you, you have to make them like you. If you can’t make them like you, at least make them agree with you. If you can’t make them agree with you, at least you should try to make them not disagree with you. If you can get the support from some really key leader in the company and make them like you, that’s a big success.
BUSINESS, CSR, AND SUSTAINABILITY
RICH: Sustainability should be business. CSR should be business. The reality is that they are often kept separate, right? Or maybe now it’s getting closer. So, what do you feel keeps it separate? What keeps sustainability and CSR separate from the company business? Do you think that Western or Chinese firms are better at integrating it actually?
ROY: I think the problem comes from the definition, or perception. Many years ago, I think the CSR definition of CSR is too narrow. Now they say things at least from my observation in China, it’s totally changed for years. If you look at the least in 2008, there is a CSR bad list judging how much you donate. How fast you donate. But if you look at the bad list in 2013, it’s all about your charity issues. It’s all about your product safety issues. It’s all about compliance issues.
So perception, public perception are changing and the stakeholder perception change. So I think the company change naturally. So I don’t think this is still issue, at least in China. For western companies, the CSR is already integrated even they not realize that from a perception angle. But that’s over 100 years accumulation. But some times if you compare the CSR project, in western company and Chinese company, you will see that Chinese company looks more strategic, more fancy because the knowledge of CSR is based on very mature theories. In the recent years. That’s Chinese companies takeaway. They are looking at social innovation. They’re talking about the incubation. So all those things because they are new, so they are absorbed the latest knowledge. The latest theories and then they integrate them into their strategy. That make a difference in outlook.
However, I think Chinese company needs accumulation. There’s a lot of fast win, quick win, but when you expanding into a longer period, whether that can generate profound impact to the business, to the environment or to the community, that is a question mark.
RICH: What keeps you motivated? When you have a bad day, what keeps you passionate about this topic?
ROY: I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s a chemistry. Because yeah, that’s interesting question. I’ve been for years haven’t thought about this. I motivate, something motivates me, the new challenge. Cuz, we’ve been doing other things we think oh, that looks good. People tell good about it, but what about something we think that’s a difficult. What about something we can find a smarter way to overcome that. Also, what are we thought we’re doing whether it’s really good.
This is, this something always keep me thinking, keep me improving.
On the other hand, you see lot of other CSR professionals there. You see a lot of non-CSR, but they are performing in a way of CSR, so they’re the ones who inspire you. You should keep the pace with them.
RICH: I guess for the last question in the spirit of learning from each other. If you look in the camera and you’re talking to the 32yo Roy, what are three pieces of advice you would give him so that he could do the best job possible knowing what you know now after your journey?
ROY: So you can’t change the world, but never give up the thought of changing the world.