Straws, Goats & Dogs -- Oh My! Engaging Primary School Students in CSR-related Careers and Actions
2019-06-24 | 9 min read
Have you ever talked with primary school students about your profession as part of a Career Day? Such events provide youngsters insight into jobs in their local communities and are meant to inspire future career choices. I recently participated in such a Career Day and was excited to not only share the great job opportunities and actions in corporate social responsibility (CSR), but also learn from students what motivates them -- providing me valuable insight into how best to position grade school STEM education programs. What was my key learning from this event? Kids have opinions on what impacts or is important to them – and it’s a great way to share actions and career opportunities in the areas of sustainability, social impact and governance!
The competition was tough
The 5th grade classes I participated in included about 80 students near our Colorado Springs, CO office. I was asked to share what I wanted to be at their age – which was an artist – and consider what most kids aspire to be when they grow up to provide perspectives of different career options. Across the students I talked with, the career aspirations that bubbled to the top were professional athlete (of course), artist (how ironic), marine biologist and veterinarian (or something to do with animals). I wasn’t exactly sure how CSR could compete with those, not to mention my talk followed a firefighter in the Career Day lineup. But I was going to give it a go!
Straws, goats and dogs -- oh my!
As I started my spiel on CSR – describing what it is and why companies have such programs – I tried to connect the environmental, social and governance aspects to the students’ world view.
For example, to describe the role of companies in environmental sustainability and stewardship, I highlighted a program where we are piloting removal of single-use plastics at Keysight’s Penang site to minimize pollution by going straw less. That seemed to pique the interest of these 10-11 year olds, who are big consumers of plastic straws. We had a healthy discussion, dare I say debate, on the various sustainable options to single-use plastic straws such as metallic, reusable hard-plastic, and compostable paper straws – the latter of which were the least preferred because they just get mushy and taste bad, as the students informed me.
Then I turned to another environmental program at Keysight – the use of goat herds for sustainable landscaping at our corporate headquarters in Santa Rosa, CA. That really got the students’ attention, resulting in an even more vibrant discussion! I explained how the goats help clear dried grasses and invasive plants while maintaining fire breaks around the property. This approach enables Keysight to support the natural diet of local goat herds while saving on energy used for landscaping. This revelation led to a lengthy discussion about the different types of goats in the program (whether they are fainting goats), could they be petted, why didn’t the local Colorado Springs site have them, and if we had considered using them for goat yoga too as part of a wellness program. It was a fun discussion, and a great way to introduce innovative environmental sustainability approaches to the students. They had never considered managing goat herds could be part of someone’s job at a technology company!
As I moved into the social impact aspects of CSR, I decided to use the example of Keysight’s partnership with our food service company, Eurest, that supports their Waste Not, Wag a Lot initiative. While excess human-consumable food from Keysight’s cafeteria are donated to a network of local food banks and charities, other appropriate food scraps which would otherwise be thrown away or composted are turned into healthy treats for dogs through this program. Those treats are then offered for purchase by Keysight employees for their own pets or as a donation to the local Humane Society pups. In addition, all funds from the treat sales are donated as well. In this case, Keysight and its partner support local charities while providing a positive social impact in the community. This revelation led to a collective “awwwwe” from the classroom, and then more conversation on what the treats looked like, how many dogs got the treats and if the dogs liked them. All great questions that showed their interest in the topic and the impact it made.
Finally, in the governance space I used examples such as how school teachers, principals and superintendents are accountable for the students learning, just like corporations have governance teams and executive functions that are accountable in CSR. And school rules, like not running in the hallways, are meant to keep both them and their friends safe, just like policies and regulations in corporate governance help keep everyone safe. Let’s face it, though, teachers, principals, superintendents and rules are not high on students’ list of interesting topics. But they understood the concept in the context of their school experience.
Bringing it all together – Building a better planet is everyone’s job
While the conversations may have been a bit off-topic in terms of career choices, it was a great way to engage students in environmental, social and governance aspects that they could relate to. It also was a good primer to detail how everyone has a role to play in CSR, regardless of their career choice.
There are, of course, careers directly related to CSR. These include professions in environmental, health and safety (EHS) or workplace management, or roles like mine focused on strategy, reporting, initiatives management, and communications. But I explained that any position in a company has some intrinsic element of CSR. It could be simply following workplace policies and standards of business conduct, or utilizing available corporate sponsored volunteerism and charitable giving programs.
Even those sought-after careers that are top of mind for students have a CSR element. Professional athletes can utilize reusable water bottles and environmentally friendly or humanely made equipment. Marine biologists can work to save endangered species. Veterinarians help the community by supporting healthy pets. And for those aspiring artists like myself at their age – I was in fact a working fine artist and graphic designer early in my career -- I can attest to the opportunity to utilize environmentally friendly materials.
My hope is that they are inspired to consider the role that their future career, regardless of what it is, can play in building a better planet!