Member Spotlight: Christine (Chris) Hagler

16 Dec, 2021

IMPACT

Member Spotlight: Christine (Chris) Hagler

December 2021

Managing Director, Climate Change and Sustainability Services
EY

For much of your career, you’ve focused on sustainability and environmental issues. Was there a moment when you realized this was a direction you wanted to move in for your work?

Let me explain it this way. My undergraduate degree is in marketing, and my graduate degree is in the management of technology. And for most of my career, I worked in the area of change management and strategy. But about 10 years ago, I just decided I wanted to do something that felt more meaningful to me, which led me to the work I do now at EY. There wasn’t an “aha!” moment that I can recall. And I was the president of my ecology club in high school. So I guess this is a subject that has interested me for a long time.

For the people who couldn’t attend the Council’s STRIDE: A Social Impact Summit, is there one thing from your talk that you’d want to share?

Sure. It has always been important for the work that a company’s government relations team does — what it lobbies for — to be aligned with what is most important to the company. But in today’s transparent world, that is more important than ever. What is new is the recognition that what is most important to a company is broader and deeper than we once thought. In the world of stakeholder capitalism, we have come to understand that what is important to the company isn’t just what is good for its investors but also its broader stakeholder group. When we thought that way, a financial services company might lobby for policies affecting accounting or corporate taxes. While that is still important, today we also have to think about what might be best for employees — and all of the stakeholders. And that might include developing a more diverse workforce and a more equitable society.

We seem to have experienced a shift in interest in the past couple of years from sustainability and the environment to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. If that’s the case, how has that affected your work?

I see what you mean, but I’d explain it this way. I think the two are connected. With the pandemic, for example, we’ve seen how a disruption like that can hurt our businesses and our economies. We’ve seen the social impact of a pandemic. We’ve seen how companies cannot exist if the society is not functioning well, and the environment is essential to a properly functioning society, just as diversity and inclusion are. We’re also seeing the effects of climate change on everyday life, with extreme weather — hurricanes and forest fires and floods. In times of extreme weather, people can’t go to work. It can be as simple and as profound as that. We have to focus on the environment if society is to function well. And companies can’t function well if society is not working.

You have your own podcast at EY, called Sustainability Matters. Tell us about it.

We’ve been doing the podcast now for two years. When we started, it was targeted to corporate America, but we’re now moving toward a global platform. We bring in subject-matter experts for conversations with an emphasis on the practical actions companies can take. The science is interesting, and I love it, but we want businesses to know what they can do with the information.

You’ve stressed in blog posts and other things you’ve written the importance of fact-based, evidence-driven decision-making. But today we’re engulfed in information — in “facts” and “evidence.” Data has never been more readily available. How is anyone, or any organization, supposed to sort through it all?

The key to sorting through it all is determining what is most important to your organization. You have to get that right first. I’ve spent my whole career in Atlanta, so let me illustrate this by using Atlanta-based companies as examples. Water policy is hugely important to Coca-Cola because water is like 90% of their product. Bird migratory patterns may be important to Delta Airlines, but less so to Coca-Cola, and water is less important to Delta. It’s knowing which issues have most relevance to your company that makes it possible for you to cut through all the noise and focus on the data that is relevant to your organization and your stakeholders.

Reach Hagler at chris.hagler@ey.com or 404.626.5646.

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