Inspiring Businesses to Engage in ESG Programs with Harvard’s Pamela Rucker

March 21, 2023

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Pamela teaches professional development programs at Harvard University around the topics of leadership, strategy, and digital innovation. She serves as the Expert-in-Residence for their Women in Leadership program. She chairs the Technology Advisory Council for St. Jude Childre’s Research Hospital, and has served as a CIO Advisor for the CIO Executive Council. Pamela also runs an advisory services practice that focuses on the implications of digital, corporate reinvention, and delivering success in high-intensity cultures. As an industry consultant, she provides a unique onsite advisory experience, allowing her clients to transfer the power of learning to practical success in their organizations.

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John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so excited to have with us today Pamela Rucker. Pamela is a CIO advisor and an instructor from the Harvard Professional Development. She also recently partnered with Oracle on their No Planet B study. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Pamela.

Pamela Rucker: Thank you for having me.

John Shegerian: Hey listen, Pamela, there’s a lot to unpack here. Your biography is so fascinating. Before we get going into what you’re doing as a CIO advisor, what you’re doing in Harvard, and what you recently did with Oracle on their No Planet B study, I would love you first to share your background.

Pamela: Yeah. Let me unpack this a little bit in a way that might be interesting. I’m going to go all the way back to elementary school. I grew up in Virginia. Virginia, I don’t know if you know, had a massive wall of resistance to integration, which occurred some years ago. The net result of that was that when I went to the first grade, I was the only person of color in my classroom, the only one. The kids wouldn’t play with me. This continued all the way through school until I got into the third or fourth grade. At that point, even though the kids wouldn’t play with me, they call my family names, they did all sorts of mean things so that we would be separate. When I was going to school with the kids I live in within my neighborhood, we were all placed in different classrooms. We couldn’t necessarily sit with those kids either. That had the effect of being very isolating for me. One of the things that my mother really believed about the school that I was going to was that it was willing to give me a much better education. She was a big proponent of that. She encouraged me to go out for what they had at the time, called the Talented and Gifted Program, I was tested for this Gifted Program. When I made it into the Gifted Program, she was so excited because this is all of her dreams coming true. Now, you have to understand, my mother was a woman of the 50s. I mean, she grew up in the 50s and married in the 60s. The options for her were either go to school or get married. She chose to get married, even though she had a scholarship to go to school and didn’t actually pursue that. She always said to me, “You’re going to be the one that goes off to college and does these things that I couldn’t do.” She was super excited about that. When I got in the Talented and Gifted, I was waiting for the opportunity to do some of the other things that kids were doing. It just seemed like they had these games going on where I was always excluded. I couldn’t participate in the way that I wanted to. One day, in an effort to keep myself busy, I saw this huge, quirky device over in the corner with lots of blinking lights and there was this phone on the hook over there. I went over to check that out to see what it was. I found out that, wait, I could actually play on this device. I could get on this machine. If I type certain things, then I could talk to somebody across town somewhere else. It turns out that that computer became my friend in Talented and Gifted. That person on the other end of the hook became my friend in Talented and Gifted. That’s when my love of technology began. My mother saw that I was loving all of the things I was doing in Talented and Gifted. She said, “Instead of you playing around on Saturday mornings, you’re going to go to the Math and Science Center, right?” All of us are watching cartoons and the things that we would watch back in the day with Jughead and so forth. Not me, I’m up and going to the Math and Science Center and I’m taking things like pharmacology and biology and one of those classes is meteorology. That’s how you start to see these tie come together with me and technology and interest in weather patterns and people and how we might be able to use technology to help save our planet and save people. Fast forward, I actually ended up going on some college and I’m studying one of my mentors. My mentor was an accountant at the time. I loved everything that they did and I said, “I’m going to be like this person.” I took the classes, I was under one of the best, most renowned instructors on the East Coast. I remember it being a beautiful bright day. This is how I’ll blame the environment for me changing my career, right? It was a beautiful bright day, the windows are up in the classroom. The instructor was talking about double declining balances and I thought I was going to kill myself. I’m not sitting here another minute. I left the class because I just said I wanted to do something different. I talked to one of my favorite instructors about organizational behavior, who said to me, “Hey, there’s this emerging technology coming out, where there’s this place where people are sitting in the middle, where you understand technology, and you understand people and you help them talk to each other called management systems.” That’s what he invited me to join. I joined that, it’s been something I’ve worked on ever since then, how to get people on both sides to talk to each other and understand what it is they’re doing. That’s how I started my career off and started an interest in the things that I talk about today.

John Shegerian: That’s so cool. Then what brought you to Harvard? What was the impetus to get you over to Harvard to teach there?

Pamela: Yeah. That’s another great story. I was teaching and working in organizations. I found out that each time I got promoted, because I was a person that got promoted early and I was given larger levels of instruction early. But one thing I found out was each time I had to get promoted, I had to train the people that were working with me, right? I had to bring them along with me. In that process, I started talking about the things that I was doing. I was talking to people about the things that I was learning. I had a person invite me to speak at the forester leadership conference two years ago and I said, “This is a moment, right? Either I can accept this and say that I’m going to take this challenge on, or I’m going to not accept it and it might not come back around forever.” I went to the conference. That day, I remember being on the stage with all of these people from such huge organizations. The story that I was telling was, I know you have a billion-dollar budget and I know you have these great things that you’re doing, but the work I do every day is around limited budgets and trying to get people to conform to these changes and getting them to want to struggle for a future that I’m trying to create with a limited budget and having to train them to do that as I go along the way. My role was not just how do I serve as a CIO or how do I serve as a top technology person, but how do I also train them in the way they should think and act as they’re moving along in their career. It just turns out on that day, a lot of people had that resonate with them. I started talking more with CIO Magazine and with others about how we could then turn that into a program that we would deliver to other organizations. We partnered on not only that, but also concepts around helping women understand how they could be leaders in organization. That exploded into classes that we did for people across the country. After doing that for about seven years, I started to do it with Harvard. That’s how I got there.

John Shegerian: That’s awesome. That led to, at some point, you partnering with Oracle on the No Planet B study. Can you explain how that relationship came together and what the No Planet B study is?

Pamela: Yeah. I have always felt like ESG is the future. I really have felt like it’s important for me to figure out how we can best support businesses that are really trying to spend more time on sustainability and social issues. When we had a chance to actually just serendipitously with meet with the Oracle team, it turned out that we cared about the same types of things. One of the things I wanted was some rigor around the things I cared about talking about. They wanted someone that could actually speak to this from an academic perspective to say, “What are some of the things that would bring businesses in to be interested in the topics that we are covering?” Because I talk a lot about digital and because I do honestly believe sustainability gives you a competitive advantage, which I hope we’ll have a chance to talk about a little bit more in the session, that just seemed like a marriage made in heaven for us.

John Shegerian: Got it. Let’s go back to that. What year did you undertake the No Planet B study and what was the mission of it when you started out?

Pamela: It was last year, 2022. The goal was to really talk to consumers and businesses about how they felt about the topics of sustainability and whether we saw the emergence of what I called at the time shadow players, people whose minds were changing about things, even if they hadn’t done anything about that yet. Then people who were actively changing the way that they were behaving around sustainability. We did that and we surveyed more than 11,000 consumers and business leaders across 15 countries. From that survey, we saw three big things. The first thing we saw is that people are fed up with society’s lack towards sustainability and social initiatives. I’m sure you’re not surprised by that. Second, that they really want businesses to turn their talk into action. They really feel like we have an opportunity to do something about this that maybe they aren’t capitalizing on. Then third, that people feel like technology can help companies to succeed where they might have failed in the past.

John Shegerian: Got it. Out of that come those three major facts. You and I have been around long enough and we’ve been around this topic. Let’s talk a little bit about the evolution of sustainability as it goes in America. Because, Pamela, correct me if I’m wrong. But in my travels on business travels, it seemed to me that sustainability was a DNA cultural thing in Europe long before it ever came to the US and in parts of Asia, such as South Korea and Japan. When I started connecting the dots, I started thinking about size, size matters. UK, France, Spain, Italy, are all small countries. They didn’t really have the luxury of us in America where to us, if it’s in America, it’s bigger, and bigger means better than everyone else. That means same thing with our trash in our linear economy that we could just dig another landfill and plus out our waste in a landfill. Well, they didn’t have that luxury, so they were forced to become more sustainability-thinking, more circular economy-thinking, I don’t know, back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. We were playing from behind for a long time. Do you believe that to be true?

Pamela: Yeah, and it’s interesting that you bring it up that way. Because I say this to anyone, once you start to travel, you start to see that the entire world thinks differently than you do. All of the things that you would have traditionally have thought were true about the entire world, you find aren’t case. One of the things that you touched on is this idea of size, right? That there are some things that they are forced to do because they don’t have the capability of other options, right? I put those into two buckets of capability and collaboration, right? The first one is, I don’t have the ability to just say, “I’ll put it in a landfill and send it out of the city and put it somewhere else.” I don’t have the capacity to do that. I’m forced to think about something different. The second is, I’m in a place and because I don’t have that capacity where I have to collaborate with the people around me, we have to come to some way to solve this problem. It can’t just be my way, it can’t just be your way, we have to think about this because we have a common interest in our own shared future. That means we’re going to have to work differently than we’ve done today. When you look at the size of the US compared to some of the individual countries in Europe and so forth, you do see that we have the capacity to actually kick the can down the road a little bit. One of the things we’re starting to see now is that we’re seeing a little bit of the end of the road, so we can’t kick the can much farther.

John Shegerian: Right. Good point. End of the road. I mean, it’s undeniable. I grew up in New York City, I now live in Fresno. The climate change that we’ve seen in our lifetime, Pamela, is undeniable. We don’t have to watch television or listen to a scientist. Just wherever we live, we could see the shifts in the weather patterns and stuff like that. Obviously, you did this study with Oracle with all the best intentions and you got those great backs out of them and trends that you see. Well, how do you now put these into action in terms of getting folks, leaders, business leaders, political leaders, policymakers, and just the listeners of this podcast that are wonderful men and women and young people around the world to be more involved and more engaged with the process of change? How do you go about it from here now that you have the results of your great study?

Pamela: One of the things that I always tell people is, first, you have to listen. Listen to what it is that people are saying to you, right? We’re going to dig into this a minute and I’m sure in the content. But hopefully, as you hear the results that come out of this survey, and these are not isolated results, right? These are results that we see that are similar to other surveys that have been taken. As you see this, listen to the people that are talking to you. We have people talk a lot about the consumer side, the employee side, and the business side. Listen to the people that are talking to you and then take action on those steps. I’ll talk about this probably multiple times, but also take action that you can prove. It’s one thing to say that you are changing. But I often run into companies, and I’m sure you might as well, who have this huge marketing campaign around the things that they’re doing when in effect, the shadow that they’re casting is much larger than the actuality of what they’re doing. It’s important for you to actually do something about the things that we’re going to be talking about today.

John Shegerian: Got it. Let’s go back to the consumer part because that’s a great place to start. Are consumers now, with regards to sustainability, voting with their pocketbook more than before?

Pamela: Yeah. This is interesting, right? There was this overwhelming consumer response that said they want companies to prioritize the things that they’re doing around ESG. Let me go into some of the numbers. 93% of people in this survey said, “Look, sustainability and social issues are more important now than ever.” And 78% of people said that they’re frustrated and fed up with the lack of progress by businesses to date. It’s the things that they’ve been seeing, John, over the past few years, like the pandemic and racial injustice and political unrest and all the extreme weather patterns that we’re seeing, all of that put things into perspective for them. It’s caused at least one out of four of them to change what they’re doing about those problems or commit their lives to sustainability and social causes. From our research, it’s really clear that people will not only seek out companies that are focused on ESG to patronize them, but they will also seek out companies focused on ESG when they’re looking for job opportunities, too. In order to talk about why things might be playing out that way, we need to think about what’s been happening with businesses and people. If you let me double-click on one of these for a minute, I want to talk about why that’s happening. On the business side, leadership imperatives have shifted. The imperatives used to be speed and agility, and growth and profit, right? But now, speed and agility are just table stakes. One author that I talked to said, “We’ve been talking about it for the past 50 years and it’s just time to stop, right?” The leadership imperatives are now moving toward growth and profit and trust in value. That’s happening because research tells us we’re in the age of the consumer. The trust in value point is, do I trust you to earn money in a sustainable way? Do I trust you to use the profits that you get in ways that I support in the communities that needs them? When you think about that age of the consumer, meaning that the consumer has more power, it means that businesses have these increasingly powerful consumers and companies are trying to solve these what we call functional and emotional jobs that their customers might have. Let me explain what I mean. Most companies tend to focus on competing on functional jobs or how well their product performs or what the product actually does for you. But research on the new science of customer emotions tells us that customers can be satisfied with you as an organization or satisfied with your product, but they don’t really feel connected to you. That means your product can solve the problem for them well, but they can still lead you. But it also then shows that having an emotional connection with customers makes you more valuable to them. Some of the highest emotional connection motivators are having competence in the future. Or feeling like the future was better than the past. Or enjoying a sense of well-being or feeling like my life is measuring up to expectations and it’s really stress free. Or feeling a sense of belonging, I feel like I’m part of a group, like I said, I wanted to feel like when I was so young. Or protecting the environment is a big one. People see that environment is sacred, and they want to take action to improve that. Or it can be that you want to feel secure or you want to be the person that you want to be. Research says there’s this direct link between emotional connection and what people buy from you or who they buy it from. It gives people a reason to stick with you in the long term if you’re selling something to them. Let’s take that back to the survey and say why this matters for ESG. Well, it matters because we saw in the data that 70% of people in the survey said that they would be willing to cancel their relationship with a brand that does not prioritize sustainability and does not prioritize social initiatives. Almost the same number, 69% said that they would leave their current company to work for a brand and they decided that they do want to take ESG more seriously. We really see that adopting this robust ESG programming can support your financial role, that can help you attract talent, and it can help you keep talent around, too.

John Shegerian: From a business leader perspective, employee engagement, attraction, retention, and also more revenue, more profit. There’s lots of reasons for business leaders to be shifting their thinking and their actions.

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Pamela: Yeah. When you think about that, this is coming on the consumer side, right? The fact that I can actually attract people to want to work for me, I can engage you when you’re there. I can retain you so that you don’t want to leave me. Those are big. But here’s some other statistics we saw to that might make companies want to be more sustainable when you think about your consumers. 37% said that they believe organizations are lazy when it comes to sustainability and social impact. To me, that says that they believe that people have the capability to do something about this as a company, but you’re not willing to spend your energy on that. We saw 45% say that they believe that businesses have more power for change than individuals and governments do alone. They really are looking for these businesses to step up and help here and not just wait for the individuals to do something about it. Then they also said, “Look, you as an organization have all this access to technology, so use that.” 84% of them said they believe artificial intelligence or AI that support businesses so that they can change faster. They said, “Stop doing all of this stuff yourself, let the machines do it.” And 61% of those said that they think that bots can help us pick up the slack. Think about the way we all use Alexa and Siri every day or the way many of us use these AI technologies every time we search online, or when we use social media, or when we unlock our phones with our faces, or we get recommendations on what to buy or what to look for. All of that’s already integrated into our lives. I think this idea of consumers believing that bots can help us is a really big observation on their part because they’re exactly right. A lot of us that work with systems know how hard it is to get data from a lot of different places. Having bots take over important tasks that you care about and you want to get right, quite frankly, saves a lot of time. All of that is exciting for me, right? Because that is data that we got from the consumer side. It’s not only the information that ESG is important, but it’s the integration of all of that with digital, which I love, right? I tell people this all the time, given that the people that you are now selling to and hiring and partnering come pre-wired for ESG, right? The people that you’re dealing with right now, they’re already wired for this. Not understanding what that implies for you and not understanding what implies for your business right now means that you could be out of business when you’re middle aged, right? If you think about all of those millennials that are so engaged, all those people who have so much of a voice, if you don’t do something about it right now, 10, 20 years from now, you might be out of business. That’s going to be when they have more income than they had before, when they’ll buy more products than they ever have before, when they’ll run more parts of the business than they had before, and when they have more control over who they work for than they ever had before.

John Shegerian: Right. For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we got Pamela Rucker with us today. She’s a CIO advisor. She’s also an instructor for Harvard Professional Development and she recently partnered with Oracle on the No Planet B study, which we’re discussing today with regards to ESG and sustainability trends now and in the future. Pamela, ESG is relatively from where I see it, a relatively new terminology, new part of our lexicon or vernacular. How far back does ESG go? When you say ESG, or with regards to the No Planet B study, what did you mean it to mean? Because I’ve heard so many other definitions, the definitions are very wide sometimes and very narrow. What’s your definition of it?

Pamela: If we think about ESG, we’re thinking about how we’re going to be more sustainable, right? How are we going to do business without negatively impacting the planet? How are we going to make a shift to more renewable resources? How are we going to reduce the pollution that we put into the air? But also think about societal issues, right? How are we going to work in ways that have less negative social impact? How are we going to be good community partners in the communities that we operate in and with the people that we’re selling to? Then on the governance side, how are we going to be accountable for the things that we say that we’re going to do? How is it that we’re going to actually keep our promises? I say this to people all the time, it’s really important for you to build the backbone that you need to build as an organization in order to keep the promises that you make. Because every day in all of our marketing and all of the things that we do, we always talk about the things we’re going to do. I talked the moment ago about the functional and emotional jobs. What are the problems you’re going to solve for me? I’m always making these promises to you about what I’m going to do. Well, I have to build the backbone for myself as an organization to do that. More and more, we’re seeing that ESG is becoming a part of that operational backbone, that it’s not just, do I have the people? Do I have the technology? Do I have the capability? But do I have the understanding of the impact of ESG for my organization as well? To go back to your earlier part of your question, though, I mean, we see us talking about this early in the 70s, where we talked about people, profit, and planet. We had the first Earth Day years and years ago. We’ve seen the emergence of this over time, where we’re talking about the triple bottom line and the things that matter. One of the things that I think has caused ESG to come so much into focus is exactly what I said earlier, that so much has been happening. If you think back to what was happening to you and I during the pandemic, we were forced to be in front of our television and we could not look away. We could not look away from reports about what was happening with the pandemic and how it was affecting people. We could not look away from reports about racial injustice. We could not look away from reports about what’s happening in the environment. We see what’s happening again now across the country and across the world and it’s just hard to look away. Once I think we saw that, we started to see a lot of people coalescing around that term and we see it more now on earnings calls and more people thinking about the importance of it.

John Shegerian: It’s a brilliant point. The pandemic definitely accelerated things. Before, there wasn’t a ton of talk about ESG prior to the pandemic, nor was there a lot of talk about the shift from the linear to circular economy. Post-pandemic and during the pandemic, as you said, we all coalesced around the television sets. We were sitting in our homes, we were all mostly on lockdown. What comes first? The patterns from the pandemic, of course, accelerated things. But in terms of a tipping point, was it the Larry Finks of the world who came out of BlackRock and said, “You’re going to be a portfolio company here at BlackRock.” As you said earlier, Pamela, not only you’re going to do the ESG stuff, that we need you to do an ESG, but then you’re going to have to prove up and report on it. Actually, I’m not going to just listen to your words, I need to see your actions. I need to see which direction your feet are going. It was a combination of both recent social circumstances that we were thrust into vis-à-vis pandemic and the racial injustices that we all got to watch in real time on television, with the financial institutions moving at the same time and seeing all these massive shifts happening and say, “This is the way we’re going.” Once Larry Fink says something like that, BlackRock’s the largest investor on the planet, the other financial institutions follow. Is that combination of one-two punch create that tipping point that pushed us here to this other side?

Pamela: Yeah, I love the way you phrase it with the one-two punch, right? Because I actually think it’s not an either or, it’s an end, right? Because if you think about what happened in the 60s, when there could be companies leading the way, saying that we think that integration is right or we think that having the correct type of approach toward having people of color in your organization is right, you can have leaders always say that. But people can always negate what you’re saying by ignoring that or not tuning in or not paying attention to what you’re doing. That was when we saw the dogs and the hoses on TV at night and you couldn’t look away, right? I really do think that there’s a convergence of leadership and what has happened in the media in terms of us being locked down. Because it’s not just that it was on TV, but we had nothing else to look at. It was everywhere on social media, it was everywhere on television, everywhere you went you saw it. That’s why you saw so much of an uprising, where people just said, “You know what? I have to do something about this because I don’t have options to look away.” I do think that’s the one-two punch that we need, where we need businesses to stand up and say, “I know this is right and we are not going to operate in a way that we know is unjust, that’s not going to take care of social justice or it’s going to take advantage of other people or that’s going to destroy the planet so that our children don’t have anything left.” You do need that leadership on that side. You need accountability from organizations who say that they care about it and it’s not just the care of the day. They’re just doing something because it’s the hot topic that everyone’s talking about, but they have real substantive change that they’re working on. But then you also need a something to happen that I think creates that wellspring, that opportunity for people to look and to translate that from a societal issue to a personal issue, right? It’s not just something that’s happening out there to other people or that’s happening 10, 15 years down the road. But I now have brought that in. It’s something that it’s really an issue that’s personal to me.

John Shegerian: Speaking of personal, now you are CIO advisor. Now that you have this great information that’s come out of this very important study, No Planet B study that you did with Oracle and it’s very clear and compelling, unstoppable and undeniable trends. Has your demand by business leaders gone up? Because one of the trends that I’ve seen, and I would love to you to weigh in on this, is I’ve done this show now 15 years. When I talk to people leadership online, during the show, and offline, I get to meet a lot of cool people because of this platform, a lot of business leaders are scared. They’re scared to take the first step because the opportunity and the challenge looks so daunting. Are you getting pulled out to them and called by them to come coach them through this to begin this journey that they need to be on? Because the facts, as you said, 15 minutes ago are undeniable in terms of employee attraction, employee retention, client attraction, keeping the clients in their ecosystem, and creating more revenue and creating more profits for their company, which so many have been trained that’s the thing that you’re supposed to be focused on. Now they have to deal with this new thing called ESG, relatively new compared to the Peter Drucker School of Business. Are you now being called on more to be a professional coach and mentor and instructor to business leaders to get them on the journey and coach them through this process?

Pamela: Yeah, I am. One of the things people come in the most for is helping explain the why, right? It is not enough what, right? Because one of the things that I see is people may know it’s important. But if I can give them a more compelling why, other than it’s just the right thing to do, but I can actually tie that to their bottom line, I can tie that to competitive advantage. I talk to people a lot when I teach my class about the things that we used to think give us competitive advantage don’t give us competitive advantage anymore. Now you have companies that are able to compete in your spaces without having to do all of the things that you had to do. What I’m being called in to do is to talk about what those things are and why it is that you as an organization might see sustainability as a compelling competitive advantage for you for an entirely new set of people that are sitting in a space to make decisions about whether they buy from you if you’re a B2C company or they buy from you if you’re a B2B company. What are those things that they’re looking for that go beyond just whether or not you can solve this initial problem for them? Because in the same way that every individual customer or individual person has functional and emotional jobs, every business does as well. Being able to partner with organizations that are taking giant leaps around sustainability solves other problems for companies who feel like they’re struggling with that as well. Yes, I’m called in a lot to talk to people about that. Because sometimes, we find that business leaders are on the same page as the general consumers are. We saw this in our survey, right? That they want to dedicate more time and more resources to ESG within their company. But knowing how to do that is still a big barrier for a lot of people. If I jumped back into the numbers, we saw that 95% of business leaders said, “Look, I am having a tough time trying to implement sustainability and ESG initiatives. I can’t get metrics from my partners, I can’t get it from our third parties, I can’t get the data that I need. I have these time-consuming manual processes. I’ve got to integrate all of this complex data. I’ve got to get data from multiple parts of the business.” One of the things that helps me sit in that sweet spot is that I know how to talk about business, I know how to talk about digital, I know how to talk about sustainability. But I also am very passionate about all of those, right? Leadership, digital, and sustainability, all of those matter to me. No matter how we tend to pivot that conversation, I can talk to people about why that matters. Here’s an example of something that happened in one of my programs recently. I used one of my favorite definitions of leadership, which is that leadership is the art of mobilizing other people to want to struggle for a shared aspiration, right? There’s a lot in that. The question then becomes, how am I influencing you to struggle? What am I influencing you to struggle for? If I feel like I need to be more emotionally connected to my customers and I need to demonstrate that it’s not that I can build a better widget, it’s not that I can build a better mousetrap. But I care about the world that you live in, I care about you as I do that, I care about the communities I sell in, and that you will drive past my competitor in order to buy from me. But when I serve as a leader then, when I try to mobilize you around these topics, it’s going to have sustainability in it. Because I realize we have a shared ambition, we have a shared aspiration of making the world a better place, of solving these issues both functionally and emotionally for these customers. Being able to pivot back and forth and say, yeah, digital is important because everybody talks about technology. Yeah, sustainability is important. Yeah, leadership is important. But it’s the integration of all of that, that’s going to allow you to be successful. Then be able to prove that you have done the things that you need to do. That’s important for you as a leader. Now, we also saw in the survey that 96% of people said that, “Look, we would love to do this, but we know we have human bias.” That’s a topic that a lot of people struggle talking about, that a lot of times bias distracts us from the end goal. There are things we know we should be doing but our bias gets in the way. I believe and I think the research supports that the fact that bias, just like our values, is something that everybody has, right? It’s not true to say that I don’t have it and that you don’t have it, that we were either born with it or it was put into us when we’re so young. The research says that it feels like it was hardwired into our very being. Everybody has bias just like everybody has values. The problem comes in, John, when people who are in power are allowed to use their bias to determine who to hire and promote and treat fairly, are allowed to have practices that destroy our planet, are allowed to decide policies that other people are forced to conform to. You might actually have conscious bias and you need laws and rules to force you to behave properly. But we actually see that more people have unconscious bias. They need training to help them be aware of how they might be treating other people unfairly or how they may be making decisions unfairly or doing something unfair toward the planet. The research tells us that our minds are really stubborn. We believe what we believe. But I don’t think that means we should be allowed to make decisions that impact people and profit off the planet based on our own personal beliefs. In our study, we saw that 93% of people would trust that bot that I talked about over a human to make sustainability and social decisions. It’s because they think those bots are better at making decisions without making mistakes or making rational, unbiased decisions if it’s programmed to properly or predicting future outcomes, identifying new ways to tackle issues. This is why I think this integration between leadership and sustainability and systems is useful because it helps us level this playing field with this day-to-day corporate work that we have, so that it’s not really based on individual beliefs. But I also think that leadership and systems and sustainability altogether can help companies keep promises, so that they don’t intentionally or unintentionally break them. I really think that it’s keeping your promises that builds value in the eyes of your customers and in the eyes of your employees.

John Shegerian: Potentially why people trust the bots more is because they’re unemotional. Really what you’re doing is you’re coming in and helping leaders get over themselves. As you said, we all have biases from our upbringing in the environments that we’re raised in and things of that such. But we’ve got to get over ourselves and listen to the real facts that exist. We as [inaudible] and moral and ethical people make better decisions for not only our corporation, our shareholders, but our employees, our clients or potential clients, and actually the world at large. When we were growing up, Pamela, big business was seen as a Game of Thrones zero sum game. As you said, all shareholders and stakeholders in this and we all can work together, wherever we are, to improve the world and make it a better place.

Pamela: I agree with you, I think it used to be quite Machiavellian. In some places, it can still be that way. But I think that things are changing quite a bit. Then I’ll go back to my history, right? When I told you the story about me going to Talented and Gifted and playing with that machine in the corner, I still think technology has the ability to do that, right? I still think technology has the ability to connect people around common goals if we program it and walk away, right? Clearly, if you program bias in, you’re going to get bias out, so we have to address that first. But if you address that properly, you can actually have decisions that are made without hopefully bias in it. At least some of the lower-level decisions that are obvious ones, about whether we should take on a certain project or whether we should think about the impact on the environment or whether we should think about the impact we’re having in social communities, those are things that are obvious that we should feed into the way that we make decisions. To your point, we won’t be able to survive in this Game of Thrones type environment any longer in the future. I think our customers and our employees expect more of us, even our partners expect more of us now.

John Shegerian: Think about technology and Oracle was your partner on this. To find more on the study, all of our listeners and viewers could go to Where does technology have the quickest wins for the business leaders out there that are looking to deploy technology to get them on the journey to help create some data points and algorithms that could show some early wins so that you get some traction in their ESG and sustainability journey?

Pamela: I love the fact that some of the results coming out of the survey focus on something I think we all know intuitively, right? That technology can help us with this. The thing that we saw was that AI might be better at making decisions. The idea that I can teach the computer to think in the way that I do, to process things in the way that I do, 90% of business leaders said that they thought that would be helpful. They saw a lot of benefit in machines doing heavy lifting and then getting the data out so that the humans could give context around what the data was that they saw. Or maybe even say, “Well, I think we need to pivot based on the data that I see.” They said that, “Look, you’ll make a lot more progress towards sustainability and social goals if you use the help of AI, not really in his way where this machine takes over but in a way where the humans and machines work together.” We really want to think about this as humans plus machines or not humans versus machines, right? It’s the human with machine that’s going to lead us to having success around ESG. This is important, I think, because yes, machines do work faster at these repetitive tasks than we do. But machines can also leverage data and analytics to help us increase our level of insight. That gives us insight on what’s important or insight on what work to do or insight on how to explain what we see happening, all of that. When we apply that insight toward sustainability initiatives, that’s really huge. The way that I see it, technology plays a huge role in the integration of ESG initiatives. But it also helps us to gather information and organize that information and implement all of that data that we need to really make important decisions. If you can focus on how do I get all the guesswork out that I deal with every day, how do I automate more tedious work that nobody really wants to have to do anyway, then can you focus on allowing technology to allow different departments to collaborate and communicate more easily. As we talked about the countries overseas not having the opportunity to look away from, can we allow technology to do those things and get everybody on the same page? Because if so, yes, then business leaders can really focus on making a real and lasting change. If you don’t do that, I think business leaders will always push back because they don’t really have the time and something else is always going to get prioritized over the type of work.

John Shegerian: Understood. You and I know that if tomorrow there was a presidential election and we elected a new president in this country, the day after that election, 50-plus percent of the American public would love that president and 49 point something percent would really be against that president. That’s the way America works, we’re a individualistic society. There is already now a little bit of pushback happening on ESG. Some states, you were born in Texas, so we’re not holding you to the great leaders of Texas. I wasn’t born in California, so I don’t want to be held to Governor Newsom’s rules and standards either. We’re from different places, but we happen to live in our adopted home states. There are some states that are pushing back on ESG investing and things of that such. Is that a healthy part of the evolution of the undeniable and unstoppable trends of ESG and sustainability? How do you foresee that way out in the months and years ahead, Pamela?

Pamela: I might think about this a little differently than other people do, right? I think it’s important to have healthy dialogue and give people a space to see why they don’t agree. But then also use the data and the facts to address those issues, right? Because it’s not until I stress that and I stress that system that I realized here’s an issue where you have incorrect facts. Here’s an issue where maybe I’m wrong and you’re right. Here’s a place and opportunity for us to collaborate, maybe you bend a little and I bend a little. It’s almost like a person who is going in for a stress test on their heart, right? In order for me to see what your capability is, I push you to the limit a little bit. Then I back off and say, “Okay, here’s the space where I think you can operate at peak capability, peak capacity.” I think every organization, every state, every government should do that, so that it’s not just one part of me actually operating. I think that what we’re looking at for our future, John, is a collective thing. You talked earlier about us being individualistic or collective. The goals of the individualist is also always think about the things that they want individually. A collectivist recognizes that sometimes, you have to subordinate the needs of the individual to the group. As we think about ESG, that’s going to be where we need to be, that we need to somehow subordinate some of my individual wants and desires so that collectively, we’re going to have a planet that you can live in and we’ll have something to give to our children. I think just like organizations want to succeed, states are now competing for talent. They’re competing for companies. When you see people dispersing across the country, because so many people can work from home right now, now you’re having to promote your state is one of the great places to live. Just like organizations, you need to understand the emotions that are driving the people that are coming to your state. The emotions of people of the organizations that are thinking about moving to your state, right? Because your competitive advantage, just like that company is going to depend on who you can attract, just like that company depends on who they can hire and their profit depends on who they can sell to. You want to be emotionally connected to the people that are coming to your state so that they have a reason to stick with you. I have to have things I love about Texas in order to stay here. You have to have things you love about California in order to stay there, right?

John Shegerian: 100%.

Pamela: All of us, even if you’re a government entity, have to get better at keeping our promises, right? We have to get better at progressing toward a sustainable future that we can all live in and prove our value to people that really care about it. Because a lot of times, people can’t see the things that we say that we’re doing, or they can’t see any proof that we’re actually getting that done. We have to get much better at doing that.

John Shegerian: Got it. Pamela, you’re just fascinating and what you’re doing is so timely and important. I’m so thankful for your time today. For our listeners and viewers, to find more about the No Planet B study, please go to To find Pamela Rucker, please, you can find her on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or at Pamela, it is just an honor and a pleasure to have you on the Impact podcast. You’re always welcome on this podcast. We do this show specifically for great people like you and Oracle who are together making the world a better place. Thank you for joining us today. I hope to see you back here another time.

Pamela: Thank you for having me.

John Shegerian: This episode of the Impact podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States, with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. It’s the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit