Maria Figueroa Kupcu (LA ’93), a director of the global communications company Brunswick Group LLC, last night was awarded the 2012 Boryana Damyanova Award for Corporate Social Responsibility in an event sponsored by the Institute for Global Leadership and the Advisory Committee for Endowment Responsibility (ACER).
Kupcu delivered a lecture after receiving the award. She addressed how the ongoing shift towards corporate sustainability first gained momentum while she was a student at Tufts, and cited how students built a full−sized model of Jumbo out of recycled cans to promote recycling.
People around the world were making use of the Internet and social media to persuade companies to become more sustainable, just as they were using these tools to protest the South African Apartheid, Kupcu said. This activism paid off in 1993, when Ben & Jerry’s became the first major company to publish a “corporate responsibility report,” in which its products were evaluated from an eco−friendly standpoint. Many other companies were quick to follow suit.
“The idea of transparency has been a driving force behind this push for corporate sustainability,” Kupcu said. “Companies want to publicize their data so that others may scrutinize and evaluate it. They don’t want to create a public boycott or backlash from an NGO.”
Kupcu explained that, as the world’s population increases, the need for companies to create sustainable products and act in an eco−friendly manner has become more urgent. But she added that corporations can face many obstacles in making that transition. To illustrate this argument, Kupcu used the SunChips brand as an example.
“Some SunChips are made from plants that are only powered by solar energy,” Kupcu explained. “The company is making the transition to have all of its plants grown in the same manner.”
SunChips in 2010 became the first company to package its chips in a plant−based, compostable bag that will biodegrade in just fourteen weeks, but these alternative chip bags were more expensive and harder to produce and also led many customers to complain about the noise they made, causing a notable decrease in sales.
Kupcu explained that SunChips realized that these bags would be noisier but felt that it was a tradeoff worth making.
“We are struggling to make sustainability and growth compatible on a planet that has limited resources,” she said.
Kupcu said she is still confident that corporations will make progress in this regard.
“Corporate social responsibility is still an emerging field, but we’ve come such a long way in terms of promoting its importance,” Kupcu said.
Sophomore Lia Weintraub said she thought the lecture was insightful and covered a large spectrum of past and present issues.
“I thought this talk touched upon a lot of complex issues associated with corporate responsibilities,” Lia Weintraub, a sophomore, said. “I learned a lot from her new perspective on this topic.”
In an interview with the Daily following the lecture, Kupcu described how thrilled she was to see Tufts students promoting sustainability as passionately today as they were when she was a student here herself.
“What’s really amazing is that the spirit on campus is exactly the same as before,” she said. “ I think that says a lot about a university that listens to its students and fosters a community that allows them to develop their passions and make a difference in the world.”